Classroom Spotlight: A Day In Our CREATE Space

A Day In Our CREATE Space

Sandee Bisson, Maker Educator and Lower School STEAM Curriculum Designer
It is Thursday in the CREATE space. I generally get to campus early and enjoy watching the sun slowly fill this beautiful classroom with light. I have a little morning time to prepare my materials. This morning I am running some chipboard shapes through the laser cutter to use in an upcoming second grade project. The faint smell of campfire smoke always accompanies running the laser, I love this smell. It reminds me of fall campfires back in New Hampshire. I do a quick classroom clean-up and then it’s time to start teaching.
On Thursday I see a wide range of students and get to facilitate a wide range of projects. I begin with a section of first grade. Our first graders focus on building and construction and we begin our year learning about paper construction. Our hands fold, tape, cut, and assemble as we learn to create basic shapes and structures that we can use to create a vast array of buildings, bridges, and machines. We’re wrapping up the introduction part of this unit and getting ready to use our new papercraft skills in our first project, castle building. As we work, ideas ricochet like a ping pong ball. “I’d use a ramp to build a drawbridge for my castle.”, “I’m gonna build a big tower, I think I’ll use a tube.” and “Can my castle have a swimming pool?”

Right after first grade is a section of second grade. Second grade starts the year with maker education and I get to see each pinwheel three times a week. This more intense time together allows us to go deep into our work on motion. So far we’ve studied basic types of mechanical motion and are now learning to construct with moving linkages. The slider mechanism is the current favorite and students are using it to build mechanical puppet heads. The creativity and attention to detail is impressive as each student works to get their creation just right. My favorite sound is the squeal of delight that accompanies the successful completion of a project that has had some bumps along the way. 

Then it’s time for kindergarten. I teach our kinders in their classrooms. The CREATE space can be a bit overwhelming at first. Our kindergarteners are learning about all the actions makers must do to make things, whether these be cognitive or physical tasks. We are letting the natural world guide these exploration as we make our way through Elise Gravel’s Disgusting Critters series. Each book introduces us to a new critter. We learn all about them and then build a model of that creature. We use a wide array of materials and techniques to start building our maker vocabulary.

I get a little break for lunch and then switch to middle school mode. I get a nice 65 minute period with each of my middle school classes and that gift of time lets us get in the zone to create. 
My fifth and sixth grade elective is working on creative coding. We explore how to write some simple code and use that code to control lights, sound, and motors. Then students use these skills to build a dynamic art piece. This elective is the perfect intersection of art and technology and lets students get a feel for how code has become an essential tool for creative expression.
Now it’s the home stretch. The seventh and eighth grade elective, seasoned CREATE space pros, come in and get right to work. Each student is building a tabletop pinball machine with mechanical and digital elements. Each student has chosen a person or group traditionally underrepresented by the pinball industry to celebrate in their machine. These students work very independently and I mostly get to serve as their creative coach. I pop around the room offering support and provocations. “Interesting  launcher mechanism, but have you considered how you could get more thrust out of it?”, “What are you thinking about doing for your flippers?” and “How is scoring going to work on this machine?” Middle school makers have learned to be risk takers and we get some good belly laughs when seemingly brilliant ideas go very wrong. This is an essential part of the process.
The day ends. I tidy up and reflect on the work done today. The CREATE space certainly lives up to its name. Our Brandeis makers are making it matter, with paper, motion, code, cardboard, belly laughs, and determination, each and every day.