Enhance Your Makerspace!

It’s no secret how exciting the trend of makerspaces are for schools. While this movement was started quite some time ago, it seems to have gained particularly great momentum in the past 5 years.

Built on the idea of ‘constructionism’, makerspaces are a very obviously translated idea, where a space is dedicated within a school or educational facility for students to create and ‘make’ things.  There is shared resources and networking that takes place and provides a different structure of learning for students. Ranging from woodworks to robotics, these spaces are extremely important in fostering creativity and problem solving in students.

Where Will Makerspaces Work Best?

Makerspaces also range from elementary schools to college campuses, so their versatility is extremely useful.

According to Educause.edu, on their article 7 Things you Should Know About Makerspaces,

“….certain materials and tools are emblematic of makerspaces, such as microcontrollers called arduinos and 3D printers, valuable for fast prototyping. As the notion of providing space for project design and construction has caught on in education, such places have acquired other accoutrements, from paints and easels and impromptu stage sets to cooktops and candy molds. Used by students, faculty, and staff, makerspaces have become arenas for informal, project-driven, self-directed learn- ing, providing workspace to tinker, try out solutions, and hear input from colleagues with similar interests. “

It’s places like these that encourage a different type of learning to take place, perhaps a more ‘open-range’ type of environment that differs from the structure of a classroom being led by a teacher.

Some supplies for a makerspace are less available than others, such as 3D printers and robots.

If you compare sharing a robot amongst a class of 20 students to them all sharing a computer to learn from; you can see how the essence of learning is diluted. The experience is completely different and likely not nearly as effective or beneficial to the students until it’s their “turn” to use the computer.

The same can be said for robotics. We know they are extremely useful for teaching many STEM concepts and early mechanical engineering, and LEGO robots are very popular for schools and competitions but start around $400. For most public schools, one robot may be more than is affordable so to effectively teach an entire class by sharing; the students are not receiving the best quality experience from their class.

Here is another example where the Virtual Robotics Toolkit can provide a solution to hundreds of schools and thousands of students, where each student is able to individually use the simulator. They can build and control their own robots using the exact same controller and concepts as the physical robots. In fact, if they’ve already learned how to use a LEGO EV3 MINDSTORMS or NXT robot, they will seamlessly navigate the VRT.

Pilots use flight simulators to learn to fly for the same reason students can learn robotics with one; costs and training purposes.

If students are given access to the VRT in addition to the makerspace of sharing a physical robot, their skills and overall experience will be greatly enhanced and at a fraction of the cost of a real robot.

It’s a win-win for teachers as well, since they’re able to help their class all get to the same level.

Where can this movement take students and educators?

The Educause article says, “One key demand of a makerspace is that it exist as a physical location where participants have room and opportunity for hands-on work, but as these environments evolve, we may see more virtual participation.”

This is such a great point, because of global networking the opportunities are truly endless. Again, here is a great window of opportunity for the VRT to be a part of your school’s makerspace.  The software already encourages users to interact and even compete with other robot enthusiasts across the globe via the internet.

This capability allows students to learn from eachother and share ideas and challenges that they would otherwise not have had the access to.

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