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posted: Thu, Feb 14th, 2019

Teachers to present workshop on makerspaces

Beth Cohen and Dr. Rebecca Kreider, teachers of MOMS Innovation & Design courses, will present to N.J. educational technology professionals their practical insights on managing and teaching in makerspaces. Scheduled for February 22, the presentation will be part of the Teaching with Technology Showcase, a conference at William Paterson University for N.J. schools, libraries, and colleges.

MOMS began its Innovation & Design courses in 2017-2018 and completely renovated the school’s wood shop into a multi-room makerspace for this school year. In the makerspace, you’ll find kids using software to create 3-D models and printing out their inventions, building robots that they’ve designed to complete a specific task, working with virtual reality and augmented reality, and making podcasts and videos.

The presentation stemmed from Ms. Cohen and Dr. Kreider’s goal to convey information that they themselves would have found useful when they were developing the courses.

“So many seminars about makerspaces focus on how to design them,” said Dr. Kreider. “This is more of a second-year case study discussing practical suggestions for teaching and operating them. We’ll discuss the tools and equipment we chose and why, lesson and curriculum examples, and various assessments.”

Teaching in a makerspace is uniquely different from teaching any other discipline. The hands-on exploration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math challenges students with creating their own projects which often differ widely in scope and imagination.  

And with students or teams of students constructing different things, the role of the teacher is unlike any other. The active learning often requires that teachers let go of the classic “sage on the stage” model of instruction and become coaches and advisers. Sure, they have to teach science, math, and engineering principles, but mixing it all together and the tinkering is all up to the kids. You’ll usually see Dr. Kreider and Ms. Cohen spend each class walking from student group to student group, dispensing suggestions and answering questions. 

“I tell them all the time ‘I’m not giving you the knowledge, I am giving you the time and tools to figure it out on your own,’” Dr. Kreider said. “I’m here to guide them along their journey.” 

Rather than being product-driven, the focus of the Innovation & Design courses is on mastering the understanding of the processes used. That’s a difficult concept for many students who may not want to think big and try something really innovative because of the fear of failing. Here, failure is okay as long as it leads to higher-level thinking and process improvement.

“In the beginning we introduce the field of engineering and the process used by engineers to solve problems,” said Ms. Cohen. “And we talk about the necessity of considering all ideas. Get all the ideas out even if they are not perfect and try. Failure is part of the engineering process and part of life. You learn and grow from it, and then try something new and better.” 

The courses also help students develop other important skills needed in their school years and in the workplace.

 “When you hear people talk about 21st century skills and stress the importance of collaboration and communication, this is where we see it in action,” said Dr. Kreider. 

The Teaching with Technology Showcase is sponsored by NJ Edge, a non-profit technology consortium of academic and research institutions in the state.

Imagining the future urban landscape

Two groups of MOMS students in the gifted & talented program recently built cities of the future. Done as part of the national Future City competition for middle-schoolers, the students used their knowledge of science, engineering, technology, art, and math – and a whole lot of imagination – for their urban designs. The theme this year was sustainability and students were challenged to create cities that could withstand natural disasters of their own choosing.

In addition to constructing scale models of sections of their cities using only recyclable materials, the teams also completed SimCity versions, 1,500-word essays, and presentation boards. The students worked during class time, lunch, at home, and afterschool to get their projects completed on schedule.

“It was really rewarding to turn our ideas into reality,” said Emma Kahan, an eighth-grader who worked on Light Year City. “It was kind of a surreal experience.”

The project gave students the opportunity to explore various types of renewable energy including wind, solar, and hydroelectric. The teams also considered all aspects of urban planning and the resources needed to sustain a major city.

“The competition provided some preparation if you’re thinking about being an architect or engineer,” said Yash Attri, who was part of the team that built the tsunami-proof city of Fore-borough.

A snow storm prevented the students from competing in the regional competition at Rutgers. However, they did exhibit and present at the regional event in Harrisburg, PA thanks to the initiative of teacher Ann Greszczak and graciousness of Steve Roman, coordinator of the event. Although not eligible for competitive awards since they were from another state, the MOMS teams received feedback from the judges and special medals for their perseverance and dedication to learn. 

“We just cared about the experience and knowledge,” said Morgan Demm.

The kids had to board a bus on a Saturday at 6 a.m. for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

Mount Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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