How Makerspaces Encourage Creativity

Will Glass, GPS Director of Library, Media, and Makerspace
Since its inception in the 2016-17 school year, the seventh- and eighth-grade STEM classes' main goal has been to provide students with opportunities to discover their creative strengths and utilize those strengths in solving a broad variety of real-world problems involving the use of technology. Over the years, it has been truly impressive to watch our STEM students not only embrace their creativity but also learn to employ their strengths as members of a team. 

As a teacher of STEM classes, my goal has been to develop a wide range of exciting challenges that introduce students to emerging technologies. These challenges range from evaluating user interfaces in virtual reality applications to experiencing small-scale mountain rescue scenarios via drone. All of the projects are designed to help inspire curiosity and persistence, develop an awareness of various types of engineering, build problem-solving skills, and have fun.

Through my years of teaching STEM classes, I have discovered that the biggest failures provide the best learning experiences. I have to admit; this is also true for me. As long as we “fail safely,” I encourage students to try out their ideas and see what happens. Whether a trial ends as a win or a failure, regardless of the outcome, the results are memorable and leave a lasting impression. During one project focusing on the operation of the Mars rover, students must drive large remote-control vehicles through an obstacle course while viewing a monitor showing video of a camera mounted on the front of each vehicle. Some obstacles involve crossing uneven bridges several feet off of the ground. Finding the right path to successfully cross the obstacle is crucial. There may be more than one right path, and the best way to proceed is to try each path. In many cases, the result is a large remote control truck spinning upside down on the floor. Oftentimes, the response from the student operating the vehicle is something along the lines of “Wow, the wheels aren’t spaced wide enough to take that path, but how cool was that crash? I need to try another way.” Lesson learned.

One of the challenges posed to our students is to design and build airplanes beginning with paper, then foam, and finally, large-scale planes built of multiple materials including foam, wood, and metal. The goal is for small teams to build planes and attempt to fly them across Smith Courtyard using a heavy launcher built with PVC pipe and rubber tubing. Through experiences like this, STEM students learn how to iterate on their designs through trial and error. Throughout the challenge, students use their individual skills to help improve the flight of their team’s plane. Some teams will make dozens of slight changes to their plane just to gain a few more seconds of flight time and a bit of distance. Students can literally see their teams improve with each launch. Their creativity and combined problem-solving skills have positive effects, and the closing distance between their plane and their goal is clearly visible. The goal is attainable, but ingenuity, teamwork, and persistence are required to reach it. 

At GPS, we are incredibly fortunate to have a community that encourages students to embrace their creativity. Not all students see themselves as artists, but I believe each student has the ability to express herself artistically. The discovery of innate creative talent is especially encouraged in our STEM classes. Every effort is made to provide each student with opportunities to use technological creative outlets (such as virtual reality 3D design) to solve problems using her own unique vision. Our students are taught that the devices they use in class will evolve quickly. These changes are made apparent when one looks at the ever-changing technological offerings available in our library and makerspace. Our students are regularly reminded that all of the devices available to them are simply tools to help them embrace their creativity and help enhance their problem-solving abilities.  
GPS places a high value on creativity and self-expression. Through our STEM classes, students are given the opportunity to explore their creativity while examining and interacting with current and emerging technologies. It is not an expectation that all of our STEM students will grow up to be engineers. However, each student will have an understanding that they are growing up in a world that needs creative individuals who are comfortable with technology and work well in concert with others.