Maker time has become the most requested activity by students in Gateway to Science STEM Adventure Camps. Why? Campers told me it was because they can’t do it at home or school, and they like having “tons of different supplies to choose from to make almost anything.”

Maker time offers flexible space and resources to explore, experiment and play, all while learning about the engineering design process and the real-world work of engineers, architects and other STEM professionals. Many students do not regularly experience this type of open-ended, hands-on inquiry in the formal education system. Informal settings like Gateway to Science are an important complement to the work that goes on during the school year, in addition to offsetting the loss of learning that can occur during the summer school break.

Interactive learning experiences, like maker time, encourage students (and their teachers, parents and other adults) to ask, imagine, plan, create and improve. Gateway to Science staff educators facilitate STEM challenges and allow for free play with the tools and materials in the Lab. Students are able to plan city blocks, build bridges and pipelines across challenging landscapes, invent new vehicles to accomplish missions, and more.

Gateway to Science received a grant from HDR Foundation to enhance our maker space, and our annual fundraiser has also been key in expanding what we have to offer. The Gateway to Science maker space includes a SMART Board, laptops for research and design, varied tools, work tables, stools and thousands of components such as dowels, gears, tubing, screws, wire, etc. for makers to utilize. A Midco Foundation grant sponsored a Maker Night for families this winter, the first event of its kind for Gateway to Science.

From a teaching perspective, I love maker time for so many different reasons. I love creativity. I love watching people create, tinker, build, and engineer. The joy on someone’s face when they take risks or make something they’re proud of is priceless. Kids don’t have many opportunities for open-ended creativity, and maker time allows that for them.

More and more, I notice that kids are often not willing to try things for fear of failing. If they fail, they quit and that’s that. They are not willing to tinker and figure things out. Maker time encourages them to do just that. It’s okay to fail and try again. There’s no pressure during maker time. You can make whatever you want. It’s all about tinkering and figuring stuff out. This makes it a safe place to fail and to take risks. The more time kids spend in this environment, the less likely they are to give up or quit. When they are making/creating something they are interested in, they are more likely to power through problems and figure things out. Maker time is a time to problem solve.

When I first started incorporating maker activities into programming, I made it a point to do discrete projects that used only tools like scissors because I had serious safety concerns when it came to having kids use hot glue guns, hammers, and multi-cutters so I did all of the tasks that involved “real tools.” But then I realized that teaching kids how to safely use tools was a part of maker time. When you teach kids how to use a tool safely, explain the risks, and then trust them to use the tools, it empowers them. Kids are not often allowed to use real tools to create. That trust and empowerment is special and, at least in my experience, they don’t want to lose the ability to use those tools so they follow the safety rules. (It’s worth noting that there is ALWAYS a staff member around when we are using any type of tools in our programs, and if anyone is NOT comfortable using a tool, we will help.)

I spend the vast majority of my time working with kids. Kids are OK working without specific instructions in our programs. They spend most of the time ‘out of the box’ creating new things and approaching problems from unique angles. When we hosted Maker Night, it was my first experience with adults at maker time. The adults wanted step-by-step instructions. When they were trying to fix something, they often only tried one or two solutions, whereas kids would have totally different ideas and many more of them.

Are you interested in creating a maker space in a classroom or even at home? What is a Makerspace? offers a wide variety of resources and ideas to get you started.

I’m pro maker time. I love, love, love it. No prior experience or special skills are needed to be a maker – everyone is invited to explore, invent and have fun.

~ Courtney Stoltz, Educational Outreach Director

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