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Photo by Caitlin FowlkesBrother and sister Josie and Xavier Munter dive into one of the many large containers filled with more than 5,000 Lego pieces.

Makerspace making a difference in empowering young minds

An Ashland elementary school makerspace greatest product is encouraging inquisitive young minds.

What’s a “makerspace”? Simply that: a space where people can make things, a place where people can gather to create, invent and learn. One local example is DaVinci’s Garage at ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, a room with crumpled paper airplanes and model clay stains on the floor. It is a dedicated area for kids to be thoughtful with their hands, a place that encourages them to create and invent.

“Makerspace learning can also empower students, helping them to shift from being passive consumers of information and products to active creators and innovators,” according to a Curiosity Commons article.

Julie Grantham, librarian at Walker Elementary, established a permanent makerspace in the Walker library nearly three years ago. She says that, to her knowledge, this is the only designated makerspace in an elementary school in Ashland.

“We encourage them to try new things and fail,” Grantham said. “That’s a really big thing, is we want them to not be afraid to fail, but to just keep trying.”

Every Friday during lunch recess, students at Walker get to play and work on projects. They then have the option of returning to the library after school for about 40 minutes to continue their work. Parents and other teachers are encouraged to join the space after school.

Grantham said there’s a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities going on in the makerspace, but she also tries to incorporate creative activities such as origami and art projects.

Thanks to grants from Ashland Schools Foundation and the Walker Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Grantham said she’s been able to purchase various toys that stimulate problem solving for all ages, and more than 5,000 Legos for the younger kids. The program is free to all students. In her third year of hosting the makerspace, she said she feels like the program has expanded and the library has an abundance of resources for the space.

“The kids drive it, they decide what it is they want to work on and I am just here to help facilitate that,” Grantham said.

She often encourages projects based around literature, often incorporating Oregon Battle of the Books themes.

Miriam Preskenis, a second grader, said she enjoys coming as much as she can remember to.

“All of it’s really fun,” Miriam said. “I like the building stuff and creating stuff because I’m a really great engineer and I do it a lot at my house, but usually they don’t always turn out. Sometimes they do though.”

Grantham said she’s inspired by other makerspaces and is considering partnering with teachers to offer the makerspace as an incentive for their classes or something similar.

“It encourages (students) to be creative, it encourages them to think outside the box, and to follow through with a project,” Grantham said.

She encourages everyone to work in teams and submit a project proposal, so the older kids are usually leading the younger kids.

She also said that two years ago she helped a fifth grader write a grant, which the student then proposed to the PTO for a water filter to be used in a science experiment, and they got it.

“It teaches them to advocate for themselves,” Grantham said. “It’s such a wonderful thing I’m hoping to instill in them, it really empowers them.”

Tyler Claycomb, a third-grade teacher, said the makerspace is valuable because it keeps kids engaged in school, but blends learning with fun.

“Open-ended, problem-solving oriented activities are really good for the development of skills and perseverance in kids. Those are the two most important things they can get out of school,” Claycomb said. “None of these kids realize they’re developing ‘problem-solving skills’ — they’re just having fun.”

He said all of the teachers at Walker are grateful that Grantham has taken on the project because he believes she is able to give more attention to the makerspace then they could.

“It’s all Julie, she’s done everything,” Claycomb said. “It’s something that I think if a teacher were to do it, we wouldn’t have the amount of energy or time to give to it and Julie gives way beyond anything you would expect from a person in her position and makes it such a wonderful place.”

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

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