By Elizabeth Wulfhorst
RUMSON—Students at the Deane-Porter elementary school in Rumson are getting creative with their problem-solving skills thanks to a brand new space created for active learning.
Makerspace is a STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, math) program that encourages students to find innovative solutions to challenges.
According to Dr. John Bormann, superintendent of the Rumson School District, Makerspace grew out of an initiative to balance the “testing environment” prevalent in today’s education system with hands-on learning. After attending a variety of workshops and school visits last year, the administration and teachers moved quickly to redesign a laboratory and library space and get the program ready for the 2016-17 school year.
“Through hands-on learning, students have the opportunity to design and create in an environment that promotes free-thinking and innovative thought,” said Mark Panas, one of the two teachers who run the STEM/Makerspace program at Deane-Porter.
Students in kindergarten through third grade use the engineering design process to address various challenges, as simple as a new way to get to school to as complex as getting to and colonizing Mars. “To complete the challenges students must meet certain criteria” of the design process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve), said Liz Waters, the other teacher in the program. “We are igniting the innovator’s mindset by encouraging critical thinking and inspiring creativity.”
The students utilize the program for approximately 80 minutes a week. In addition, first through third graders are encouraged to attend an open recess in Makerspace that uses the Genius Hour model of student-directed learning. “I love STEM classes,” said third grader Dakota. “We use teamwork to imagine and plan. Then we get to build cool things.”
Bormann explained that the Makerspace program was fully funded by the Rumson Education Foundation and includes a high-tech version at the Forrestdale Middle School with 3-D printers and robotics. Phase two of the program at Forrestdale will provide students in grades four through eight with a “Google lounge”-type space, as well.
Bormann expects the new program will help students “meet the demands of high stakes learning” and sees the low-tech Deane-Porter program as the perfect stepping stone to the most technologically focused Forrestdale program.
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