I rolled out our library media center’s makerspace, The Makery, in October of 2015 at Readington Middle School. While the space, with its 3D printer and pen, Legos, K’Nex, and crafts has had a dedicated following during “Maker Mondays”, I wanted to expose more students to our resources. In June, I reached out to our 6th grade science teachers, Ms. Alber and Ms. Menza, in order to collaborate on a making activity that could tie into their curriculum.
I had purchased the Extraordinaires Design Studio Pro kit after it was featured in a presentation at Hunterdon County Librarians Association’s Winter workshop last year. This design activity assigns a “client” who requests a product to be designed by students to fulfill a particular need. Clients range from a wizard to a teenage vampire to a snow queen. After being assigned their client, students are then given a card that tells them what they need to design for them. This can include a beverage holder, vehicle, or piece of clothing.
My science teachers and I decided to give students another parameter from their classes that guided their designs: climate. Students were given a climate card for the design activity, such as tropical or arid. They were required to work in teams in order to conceive of, sketch, and build a prototype for the invention they would present to their client–taking climate into consideration in their designs. We had more than one team initially find the climate an obstacle in their design process. One team requested a new climate card since they argued that the snow queen wouldn’t live in an arid climate. I then pointed out that she had moved there from her frosty palace and needed their help designing an appropriate residence more than ever.
They worked at a frantic pace with each class being given 43 minutes to review their clients, discuss subsequent design parameters, sketch, and (using The Makery’s resources) build a prototype. I’ll be honest: many of our students struggled with this. Without a preconceived idea of what their deliverable should look like, students needed a fair amount of guidance in the creative process. A couple well-placed questions routinely got the imagination working again:
“Why does the wizard want a new hat? Does the mermaid need help to breathe outside of water?”
The end result was quick prototype presentations by each group that displayed design rationale and knowledge of key concepts from their science unit. We also had a lot of fun.
Given the success of this collaborative endeavor, we are repeating the activity this year and expanding it to two days. The first day will include additional time to complete a more formal design proposal and sketch. The second day will offer students more time to build and refine their prototypes and present them to the class. This year, students will be asked to incorporate several concepts from various science units into their proposals. We cannot wait to see what this year’s sixth graders create!
Within the past ten years, Stephanie Singer has abandoned her public relations career, earned her MLIS at Rutgers University, and transitioned into school librarianship at Readington Middle School. She currently serves as co-President of the Hunterdon County Librarians Association and as mother of two daughters who love to read. She was recently named Outstanding Library Media Specialist of the Year by the New Jersey Association of School Librarians.