Rolling Out Project Kits

As described in my previous post on the evolution of the Lodestar Lab Makerspace, we have started the introduction of project kits, which are portable tinkering activities that have proved ideal for our site! These kits developed after months of brainstorming and planning – determining appropriate activities, sourcing materials, and testing out the projects. In the end, we created about 2 kits for each activity, where each kit can be used by 4-6 students. However, the ones we’ve created are by no means finalized – they are just the first step. This post documents our successes and challenges with using our project kits thus far.

We’ve been able to introduce three of our kits during Maker’s Space time: circuit blocks, Pro-Bots, and scribble bots. My last post briefly touched upon our circuit block activity – starting with a limited number of blocks (just batteries and motors), and then introducing more, such as light bulbs and switches, until students created their own complex circuits. Throughout these sessions I saw students’ faces light up with excitement; they eagerly showed their creations to those nearby. But with the short time frame we have, I was unable to bring out some of the more challenging circuit blocks, like the potentiometers.

Unlike the circuit blocks, the introduction of Pro-Bots was a bit more haphazard. To set up, I laid out large pieces of butcher paper on the MPR floor, with the Pro-Bots spaced around them. This proved to be a mistake, for as soon as students saw the little yellow cars, they began playing with them – there was no step by step introduction. The next day, we came back with Challenge Sheets, and introduced the activity before getting out the Pro-Bots. This method was more succesful – some students were able to quickly program the car to draw squares, and then moved on to creating their own shapes.

The following week, we tried to follow the same structure as before with scribble bots: first a measured introduction of batteries + motors, adding in containers and finally markers. The first day, most students struggled with connecting the motors to batteries, so I pre-attached rubber bands and masking tape to the batteries, which made things a bit easier. I also started asking students to provide hints for anyone who would create scribble bots in the future. For most of that week, we did not have enough time to get to this step, and when we did, students had only a few suggestions, such as “listening to instructions” and “asking a friend”. The next kits we introduce will combine the best of the above – likely Challenge Sheets and Helpful Hints – as well as a staggered introduction of the materials.

Scribble bot kit

In these past few weeks, we have encountered a few challenges, primarily stemming from the restricted time we can see students. The MPR, where we set up our makerspace, is only free for a limited time in the morning, and we’ve found that we can only see two groups of students for 25 minutes until it is time to clean up. In this area, we are still working on how to help students complete the tinkering project of the day, along with exploring and creating independently, To accomplish this, I’m trying to incorporate some strategies from Maker-Centered Learning, such as redirecting authority and encouraging student collaboration. For example, if a few students have already figured out how to complete a project’s initial steps, I refer other students to those “experts”. And if most students are stuck on a concept or step, I encourage them to talk to those around them, and see if they can brainstorm what works. Another challenge we’ve faced is creating a standard process for introducing activities. We want students to independently create projects from these kits – if we can introduce them in a similar manner, then students could apply knowledge from one kit to another, completing projects that they may not have interacted with before. To aid this process, each kit has an instruction sheet under the lid, which describes the parts inside and provides suggested starting steps and challenges. The circuit block sheet can be seen here.

Even though we are experiencing road bumps as we continue building the Lodestar makerspace, they are not insurmountable. We are still learning as we go, and are always trying to improve our methods and materials. We will likely have many iterations of this structure in the coming months, but for right now this space is working – students are expressing creativity while learning about new concepts.

About Claire Tiffany-Appleton

Claire Tiffany-Appleton is currently an Americorps VISTA member serving through MakerEd at Lodestar Charter School. She assists in the Making, Art, Design and Lighthouse Creativity Lab Programs. She recently graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and is excited to start her journey with making!