It’s Tuesday afternoon and 20 Middle Division (MD) students are building Thneeds and Truffula trees in the new Makerspace. After getting a chance to run around in the gym, their focus and excitement in the space is palpable. With only a few select materials in a bin, each group faces the challenge to build their perception of these Dr. Seuss words and bring them to life. With limited materials, the students learn how creative constraints can enhance thinking and deepen artistic engineering. Building within a set amount of time adds an urgency that creates focus and excitement. What will they create? How will they do it? How will it come to life?
These questions will guide our Makerspace adventures this year: what can we bring to life? What can we create? With access to the Makerspace from 5-6 p.m. several days a week, the third, fourth, and fifth graders enrolled in ASP until 6 p.m. are embarking together on various discoveries this year. Teamwork and design thinking are just some of the components to this hands-on enriching curriculum. The year will be made up of month long units that allow for creative, individualized expression, and engineering. Each week will focus on something different. Every Monday is set aside for planning: students collaborate together, thinking through the ins and outs of the project of the week. Within the scope and topic of the week, students choose what they build, identifying materials needed and jobs that each teammate will take on to bring the project to life.
The first unit of the year is novel engineering. Groups read a story, identify the problem they wanted to solve, and build it! After working on bringing to life their “Icicle Bird Guard,” one group’s solution to a problem in Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton, the group shared their successes and challenges from the week. When asked about the challenges, they said it was hard to get the snowman, icicles, and bird to fit together. Nora (Grade V), is proud of “creating my bell to give it a Christmas theme and making an inflatable bird out of balloon and duct tape.” She shared that this particular idea stemmed from watching another student do something similar the week before. The learning is contagious!
Access to the Makerspace is just one of the exciting changes in the MD After-School Program (ASP). For the first time, older ASP students will not venture over to the ASP facility at 255 Goddard. Instead, the program takes place in the academic buildings. This shift offers space and flexibility to our Lower Division friends at 255 Goddard as well; their daily programming is still going on as strong as ever! Changing the location for the MD students ties in with our theme for this academic year: Freedom and Responsibility.
To start the year, the ASP MD students and faculty engaged in conversations about what these words mean and how they will inform our year together as a community. The students are learning that with certain freedoms comes responsibility. We will continue to reinforce best practices in our after-school community. Using homework time well, for example, allows us to enjoy collaborative games or engage in student-generated activities. Through the support of their teachers, the MD ASP students took ownership of this theme by generating community agreements for all to follow and refer to this year. Each student contributed ideas on sticky notes, which were assembled into five categories: listen, be safe, be respectful, be helpful, and have fun! Each category includes the words from the students on how to adhere to the guideline, such as being respectful to our materials, our spaces, each other, our teachers, and our school community. Everyone in MD ASP was asked to sign the agreements; these norms set the foundation for our community this year, allowing us to dive into our routines and curriculum.
We begin our afternoons with snack and conversation in the Dining Room, and then shift to some well-deserved outside time, and finally 30 minutes of quiet, focused, homework time in our West Building classrooms. On Tuesdays and Fridays the schedule changes to allow for additional activities prior to 4:30, such as a group game of line tag in the gym, and project time like “The Chatterbox Club” or “Dance and Yoga.” Afterwards, students can always work on homework if they need the time.
WIth one month in the books, the students are pleased with the changes to the ASP program. Their ideas for project time are diverse and and their building in the Makerspace is focused, creative, and attentive. When asked what he was most excited about in addition to the Makerspace, Cash (Grade IV) said, “I’m excited about playing outside and playing basketball with other kids.”