Raising Changemakers with MakerSpaces

Dec 30, 2017 | News

The Leo Baeck Day School has always been known for its commitment to progressive pedagogy. From an early age, students are encouraged to develop the type of character traits and learning skills that inspire them to think critically, creatively and altruistically. In the Fall of 2017, we launched a new chapter in our efforts for academic innovation when we established MakerSpaces at both of our North and South campuses.

What is a MakerSpace?

A MakerSpace is a venue for students to congregate and collaborate on various projects or creations and exercises. These spaces are geared towards investigating, exploring, tinkering and problem solving – through hands-on creativity. Opportunities for scientific, technical and creative learning have always existed in our classrooms, but MakerSpaces are built on the premise that learning sometimes needs to happen outside of the classroom, in spaces dedicated specifically to creative play. The students, rather than the teachers, determine and drive their projects forward, led by their own natural curiosity and wonder. MakerSpaces apply STEAM principles of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics to create useful objects that can make a real-world impact.

The methodology deployed to achieve this objective is called Design Thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Design is a methodology that teaches students to approach any question or hypothesis using a series of steps that help them arrive at an intelligent, well-thought out solution. 

Upon first entering into a MakerSpace, students are introduced to the five steps of the design process:

ASK: Identify what the problem is. Consider how others approached it. Are there any constraints?

IMAGINE: What are all the possible solutions to the problem? Brainstorm and identify solutions and select the best option.

PLAN: Draw diagrams, write a  list of the steps required and the materials needed.

CREATE: Follow the plan to create something and test it out.

IMPROVE: Observe and identify what works and what doesn’t. Decipher what can make it work better and modify the design accordingly. Test and retest.

PRESENT: Share your design and the process with the whole class

How are Leo Baeck MakerSpaces unique?

Leo Baeck’s Interim South Campus Principal, Rochelle Chester, explains that Leo Baeck MakerSpaces aspire to go beyond STEAM learning and integrate our spiritual commitments, specifically to the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam:  

“Design borne of empathy can change the world for the better, making us conscious citizens that aren’t just churning out material goods for consumption, but ones who find solutions for the most vulnerable and create change to benefit many. That was the goal of the founders of the International Baccalaureate Programme. That is and always has been a core value of Judaism: Tikkun Olam, to heal the world.”

Some examples of MakerSpace Activities:

Randi Solomon, North Campus Computer Teacher, Remedial Specialist and Librarian and Stacey Jacobs, South Campus Curriculum STEAM Coach for Gr. 1-5, Gr. 6-7 Design and Librarian, have overseen the following MakerSpace challenges:

  • Design a temporary home for a family whose home has been destroyed by a hurricane.
  • Compose a sentence related to social justice by developing a unique and custom Braille-like notation system. As part of their unit on patterning and algebra, our Grade 5’s studied the history of Braille and considered the themes of equity and inclusion of people with disabilities. The students were tasked with creating their own versions of Braille and composing sentences with their unique notation / patterning systems about how using math can further social justice.
  • Determine how much the shape of paper affects its strength. Students were given paper and they created 3D shapes. They were asked to test the strength of each shape, by stacking books on top to see which would hold the most books.
  • Apply and test the laws of Physics by designing a marble run. Students were given a “mystery bag” of materials including paper towel tubes, index cards, tape, paper clips, popsicle sticks and two marbles to create a marble run.  They were given the extra challenge of creating the most exciting ride they could. The kids collaborated in groups to build, test, improve and retest their creations.
  • Apply engineering concepts to build an original and stable tower structure. Students were asked out of four materials, which one would create the most stable tower structure. They were taught to distinguish the difference between and educated guess (the hypothesis) and the observable facts that are based upon a conclusion derived as a result of adherence to a scientific methodology.  

What impact does a Leo Baeck MakerSpace have on students?

MakerSpaces are providing our students with a creative playground in which they’re testing their critical thinking skills and imagining new possibilities for making positive change. One student proposed a wheelchair prototype that climbs stairs so disabled children can attend standard schools. Another student, who recently had an arm cast removed, drew from his personal experience to design a contraption that helps those with missing hands open doors and grasp objects.

MakerSpaces promote:

  • Student-led learning, leadership and accountability
  • Problem solving
  • Critical Inquiry
  • The values of Tikkun Olam and global citizenship
  • Collaboration
  • Resilience and perseverance


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