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 www.connectdots.ca or find out what the Fernwood NRG is all about at www.fernwoodnrg.ca

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 teachersunnyjun.com, 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 sjun@sd61.bc.ca 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!

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