Cultivating boundless thinkers & builders: MakerSpace

Here is an article written by Tania Wegwitz that was published in the Fernwood NRG, a social enterprising non-profit organization run by and for the residents of Fernwood, a neighbourhood in Victoria, BC. Since 1979.

You can read more of Tania’s blog at or find out what the Fernwood NRG is all about at

Sunny-George-Jay-RGBVice-Principal Sunny Jun in George Jay Elementary School’s new MakerSpace. This is a converted classroom now used as a hands-on learning space where children are able to use their imaginations and integrate ideas they learn in other subjects. Photo: Tania Wegwitz

›› Tania Wegwitz

Every school should be lucky enough to have a door with a sign on it like this: “When you enter this classroom, you are Scientists, you are Authors, you are ­Important, you are Leaders, you are ­Thinkers, you are Explorers, you are ­Creators, you are Readers, you are a Friend, you are Loved, you are the Reason why we are here!”

This sign exists, and in fact, it takes up the whole door to École George Jay Elementary’s MakerSpace. It is a fitting entrance to a very special place, indeed.

Opened just this past September and one of only two in the Victoria School ­District so far, George Jay’s MakerSpace is a repurposed classroom that is ­supporting the rollout of BC’s new curriculum. It is where kids get to transform the usually singular subjects of science, technology, engineering, math, and art from separate concepts into united action.

How might you build a vehicle to keep Humpty Dumpty safe, or create an arcade game entirely out of cardboard? Which properties are going to build a boat that really floats?

“MakerSpace is about integrating all the disciplines together and teaching them in such a way that kids see how they ­interrelate,” says Sunny Jun, George Jay’s MakerSpace teacher and acting ­Vice-­Principal. “Whereas typically, in other classrooms, we might focus on content—the what of what are we learning—here the focus is on how and the really important life skills and habits of mind that will help kids be successful in the 21st century. Things like persisting, flexible thinking, ­communicating, and being a reflective learner.”

The MakerSpace room features areas for students to work collaboratively and draw from bins of all kinds of interesting things. “Most of what we work with is recycled materials from the community,” says Jun. “Boxes, toilet paper rolls, fabric, yogurt containers. About the only things we need to purchase are glue and tape.”

Working with the other George Jay teachers, Jun sets challenges for ­students that build off their other ­classroom ­learning. A class studying music researched, designed, and then created their own ­musical ­instruments, which they then recorded as a music video. Another ­challenge spanned ages, with Grade 2 and 3s ­constructing puppet theatres and ­puppets for ­kindergarten students.

The projects are tremendous and worth checking out at either Jun’s website at, or at what she hopes will be a MakerFair in the late spring to showcase student creations. She is also keen on potential opportunities to bring the community in.

“I’m always open to community ­members coming into the classroom to share their passion for what they do in their lives to create or build,” says Jun (who can be contacted at or 250-385-3381). “And masking tape,” she adds with a smile, “we always need more tape!”

Tickets to George Jay ­Elementary’s play The ­Gathering on sale May 2

Speaking of creating neat things, George Jay is again partnering with the Belfry ­Theatre to put on a play that builds on their 2014 success The Flood. Featuring over 90 children ranging in age from Kindergarten to Grade 5, The Gathering is based on a Haida story about the first potlatch and how a community of people, forest animals and the Spirit Animals come together to rebuild a coastal village after a tsunami.

The Gathering will run at the Belfry May 18 and 19, 7pm. Tickets on sale at the Belfry starting May 2. All are welcome to enjoy this collaboration of creativity!

Skateboard Park Challenge with Sphero

Q: How do you create a lesson on coding when you only have one Sphero to be used in a classroom of 20 kindergarten and grade 1 students?

A: Put students in small groups, and use whatever materials in the MakerSpace and challenge them to build a skateboard park and as children are busy building, go around each group, giving them turns to use the Sphero to test out their designs.  Each group can have an iPad and use SPRK Lightning Lab app by Orbotix. IncScreen Shot 2016-04-22 at 9.48.04 PM

We began the lesson by finding out what students already knew about skateboarding and skateboarding parks.
It turns out, one of our Educational Assistant knew a lot about skateboarding thanks to her 2 sons.  We wrote down some key terms used in skateboarding such as ‘ollie’, ‘kick flip’, ‘half pipe’, ‘grind’ and more. Definitions of these terms can be found in Exploratorium.

Students worked in small groups to build the skateboard park that Sheldon (yes, we named our Sphero) might enjoy.  Students can be building, using an iPad to build the codes, and as the teacher moves from one group to another, they can use the bluetooth setting to connect with Sheldon and test out their codes and the skateboard park.  This was done at a very fast pace, as my classes are 34minutes long.  But this was our first time, so when we do it again next week, the children will have a better understanding of the types of materials that were useful, and what they need to do better so that Sheldon finds their skateboard park exciting and user friendly.

It is important to give children time to evaluate their designs and product so that they can make changes and make it better. This evaluative and reflective practice is what we want our students to be able to do in everything they encounter as learners.

Here we have 2 videos that show how children can evaluate their own design and make necessary changes.  They realize that their ramp is too narrow for Sheldon to go up and if they make the ramp wider, the chances of Sheldon being able to make it up the ramp increases.  This group will need to continue making more changes, but they have taken the first step and I have no doubt that next week, they will discover more things they need to change about their skateboard park so that Sheldon can actually go on it.

Fairytale STEM Challenges

How do we introduce STEM education and get kindergartens and grade 1s to build things and solve problems?  I don’t teach primary age students regularly and dread having to spend time with them because they always seemed so needy.  But they are amazing little creatures that absorb information and learn through play and cooperation.

So what is needed to create a successful STEM lesson with primary kids?  We must begin with what they already know so that they can make connections to their world.

We began a new unit on Fairytales because primary kids are familiar with stories and it’s something they can relate to.  We started with the story of Rapunzel.  We watched a 2 minute youtube video then the children were put into pairs to build a zip line to rescue Rapunzel from the tower.

Short video to set the scene

I prepared little bins with all the resources they need to make the zip line. It included:

  • 50cm long string/rope
  • paper clip
  • straw
  • tape
  • scissor
  • coffee filter paper (to make the basket to hold Rapunzel in)


Some children needed some prompt to secure the zip line from the top of the table to the floor but most were able to figure it out on their own.


It was a super fun activity where the students felt very successful in.  Next week, we will be completing a challenge after reading/watching Humpty Dumpty.

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Cardboard Arcade Final Products and Assessment

The grade 4s and 5s have been working hard in creating their cardboard arcades. We invited kindergarten classes to come and play and they had a blast!  The grade 4s and 5s were busy making prizes to give out using toilet paper rolls and anything else they could find. This was a very successful project because the students got to experience what it was like to turn an idea into a real-life project where other people could experience their creation with purpose.  What was even more impressing was that my special needs students who wouldn’t normally participate in regular classroom activities were able to fully participate and create a product that others could enjoy.  The ring toss picture below shows one of my special needs student who has a full time EA with him was able to create a very popular game and feel successful.

Evaluation was an important part of the learning process.  Students were asked to document their progress throughout the project, taking pictures and videos of evidence of habits of mind we have been learning about.  We discussed the success criteria together and came up with 4 areas to asses:

  1. Innovation: What was challenging? How did we solve it?
  2. Creativity: How did we use the materials and the resources?
  3. Collaboration: How did we listen to each other?  How did we show respect?
  4. Design: Does it look nice? Does it work? Is it sturdy?

Then students used Adobe Voice on the iPad to create their evaluation video.

The kindergarten classes playing with the arcades.

The kindergarten classes playing with the arcades.


Marble maze. Try to avoid the holes!


Throw the ball into the hole and get a prize!

Hand crafted prizes, ring toss and whack-a-mole

Hand crafted prizes, ring toss and whack-a-mole

Pop the balloons

Pop the balloons

Can you get the ball into the holes?

Can you get the ball into the holes?

Hand operated pinball machine

Hand operated pinball machine

Creature Features

Using story books is a great way to engage children.  This month, kindergarten and grade 1 classes are working to build their own animal.  First, we read the book “Creature Features” by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (2014). IMG_0454

We discussed different features animals have to help them survive in their habitat.  Then the children began their design process and drew what kind of animal they would like to build.  It could be an imagined one or a real one.

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Next week, we will be looking at different materials we have in MakerSpace and decide how to build the animals using recycled materials.

Cardboard Arcade Challenge

Cardboard can take children to many amazing places.  Caines’ Arcade certainly proved that.

After watching the two short movies about Caine’s Arcade, the grade 4/5s began their planning for an Arcade night.  We will be hosting an Arcade night in the gymnasium for our parents and community in the evening and raise money for MakerSpace and field trips.  The kids could not contain their excitement in this new project.

First, they researched the type of arcade game they would like to build. Then decided on materials they need to build it.

This week, we are focusing on our habit of “listening with understanding and empathy”

Puppet Theatre Challenge

This month we are working to build a puppet theatre so that we can put on a performance for the kindergarten classes.  The activity is made purposeful because the students will build to sell the puppet theatre to the classroom teachers.  They must design, collaborate, create and build a product that is pleasing to the audience and functions well.

Habits of mind focus for this week is “listening with understanding and empathy”

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Using mini iPads, students worked in groups to research types of puppet theatres they want to make.  Then they made their designs and began gathering materials they need to build.

IMG_0416How does all of this link to the new core standards in the BC curriculum?  The Applied Designs, Skills, and Technologies Framework clearly indicate how primary students will learn through purposeful play, and activities that have practical rand real-life purpose.

“Students in K-5 will develop the skills for design thinking and a maker mindset in cross-curricular contexts that they will bring to future explorations in Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies.”

You can check out the following link to the new curriculum draft:

Play-Based Learning

Learning occurs when students feel successful and are given opportunities to be challenged.  In order to feel successful, students need to be engaged and be motivated to learn.  Teachers’ roles are to create the learning environment that provide the appropriate level of success and challenge students can navigate through.  It is no longer appropriate to structure the classroom to prepare 21st century learners based on 19th century structures.  When teachers can design the classroom so that students can use hands-on approach that allows students to learn through play and collaboration, the model of 19th century structures of the physical space and schedules can no longer “limit the types of learning experiences that students can have” (Jacobs, 2010, p.13).  Hands-on approach to learning also leads students and teachers to place value on the process of learning instead of the final product or the achievement. Most of the parents of our students were educated using the 19th century model and many do not see the value of play and collaboration.  They are more comfortable when school reflects their own educational experiences.   When learning is assessed and scaffolded with a focus on process, parents have difficulty understanding that there may not be a test at the end to ‘measure’ the learning that has occurred.  Some parents see success and enjoyment at school as a sign that the learning is not challenging enough. IMG_0093 

Our North American culture can develop a notion that schools need to be difficult to be meaningful.  Shifting parent notions of how learning occurs is one of the biggest challenges when taking an interest-based, hands-on play approach to learning.  This challenge has pushed me to be more personally accountable; I have needed to reflect upon and research my educational philosophy so that I am more confident about the effectiveness of this approach to learning.Coding with BeeBotIMG_0091IMG_0094


Jacobs, H.H., (2010). A new essential curriculum for a new time.  In Jacobs. H.H., Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World. (pp.7-17). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

BeeBot for Kindergarten

School is in session and I wanted to see what my now grade 1 students remember about coding with BeeBot from last year when they were in Kindergarten.  Sure enough, they remembered how to work collaboratively, share resources and make the BeeBot move through their own construction.

Coding with BeeBot 

Students come to us with varying cultural and familial backgrounds and our job as educators is to prepare them for the future that is unknown.  If we base all of our teaching and learning on content only, we fail in preparing our students to be successful participants of our society.  What students need is to be engaged in learning, discover their interests, and experience success through exploration and collaboration.  As educators, we need to work in partnership with all stakeholders of education and create a learning environment that encourages students, and addresses the learner as a whole child and deliver curriculum that is meaningful to their individual needs. By understanding the cognitive developmental process and stages, teachers can build on existing knowledge and background of students and build appropriate level of challenges to move students forward in their learning process. 

First MakerSpace Challenge

Yesterday was our first full day of school and although the MakerSpace is not quite all set up, students came in with wonder and awe and completed their first Maker challenge.


1. We discussed what MakerSpace was all about and how it was going to assist in learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) education.
2. We discussed about Habits of Mind by Arthur L. Costa (2000) and which habit we were working on this week- Persisting.

Habits of Mind

3.  Students were put into groups, and designated a materials manager who was in charge of all the materials.  At first I didn’t think about using a materials manager and it got very hectic because everyone was coming up to me asking for tape.  By having designated materials manager and limiting the time they can purchase materials to 3 times, students were forced to re-think their plans and make collective decisions to get the most out of their opportunities.

4. Students started to build their tables and it was interesting to walk around and listen to their way of reasoning and collaborating.