Be the Change for Kids Innovation Award

Be the Change for Kids Innovation Award
The Bloomfield school district wins a state award for its “makerspace”

Below article courtesy of the October 17, 2017 edition of The Daily Messenger
By Denise Champagne

BLOOMFIELD — Mix a bunch of kids, tools and craft supplies with some basic ideas and you’ve got a recipe for creativity.

Bloomfield Elementary School — like many around the area and country — has a dedicated space for its students to make things, and they love it — students and teachers alike.

Commonly known as a makerspace, it is an area set aside within the school where kids can gather to create things from scratch, using a vast assortment of materials from pipe cleaners to cardboard and Styrofoam with craft staples like glue, markers and scissors.

On a recent visit, a group of fifth-graders were working on a variety of projects, some in groups, others in pairs and a few individually.

At one table, Ruairi and Terrance were building a tabletop pinball machine out of cardboard with creatively crafted flippers of wooden craft sticks, little cups for bumpers and a piece of laminate to cover the playing field.

“How it’s going to work is first, we had to write down all the numbers of points that you’re going to score with each one that you hit,” explained Ruairi.

“I have an idea,” Terrance suddenly announced. “Do we have any springs?”

“We need to shoot the balls,” Ruairi told Karen Soanes, director of instructional technology.

“Is there a spring in your toothbrush?” she asked, noting the students have been taking apart inexpensive electronic toothbrushes for parts, mostly for the motors.

“No,” Ruairi said. “When you open it, it’s just the motor.”

Terrance described how he was going to make a cardboard shooter lane with a hole for the plunger.

“When you pull the spring back, the ball will come up through the cardboard and come into the box,” he said.

“We may have to think about where to find the spring,” Soanes said.

The kids were on their third day of a six-day makerspace program, broken into weekly before-school sessions.

“They are working on projects of their own choosing,” Soanes said. “We gave them some ideas and some took the ideas and some came up with their own ideas.”

Nicholas, working solo on an art bot, is patterning his project after a set of instructions offered as another potential challenge.

“You take the motor out of an electric toothbrush and you put it in a can and make it vibrate off the battery,” he demonstrated. “Then you put markers on it and it draws on paper. The markers will be the legs for it and then it will just vibrate and move around.”

Soanes said the purpose of a makerspace is to get kids involved in problem solving as they design and build things or work from a set of directions.

“We want them involved in creativity, innovation,” she said. “We want them to think about how things work around them and we want to think about that inventor mindset. There’s actually a lot of science they’re doing without even realizing they’re doing science.”

They began the first session with a catapult challenge to come up with a design and launch a ball of their choosing the farthest distance.

“The great thing about catapults is because it’s such a simple design, they can do all kinds of creative things to it and we want them to learn part of that is to test their designs as they go,” Soanes said. “So, a few students got to the end, tried their catapults for the first time and they didn’t work or they didn’t work the way they thought they would, so we used that as a springboard lesson to test as you build and make sure your materials can hold the weight you’re putting on it.”

Other students were engaged in various configurations of candy dispensers, because what kid doesn’t like candy?

“Caroline, do you need help with something?” Soanes asked one of the girls.

“I’m fine,” she replied, working with Anna on a machine where gumballs will drop into little flip-over cups to roll out into someone’s hand.

“I changed my idea for these,” said Georgia, swapping some little pieces to find something else that would work for her conceived project.

“That’s the trial and error,” remarked Soanes. “It didn’t work, so I need something else.”

Bloomfield Elementary began its makerspace program last spring with second and third-graders and has already won an award from the New York State School Boards Association and State University Polytechnic Institute as part of the sixth annual Be the Change for Kids Innovation Awards.

The Bloomfield Central School District was one of three districts selected statewide.

Accepting Soanes to Albany to accept the award, a huge $5,000 check, were Kate Myers, elementary school lab teaching assistant, and Principal Scott Donnelly.

“SUNY Poly is excited to work with the New York State School Boards Association as part of this program that honors schools from New York state by starting the important process of preparing students for in-demand jobs in a fun way,” William Durgin, SUNY Poly provost said at the awards ceremony Sept. 27.

“The programs that are being honored showcase how our schools are providing young students with an applied education, setting the stage for success when they decide to pursue high-tech jobs in the future,” added NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer.

The goal of the award is to honor and promote new educational approaches to science, technology, engineering and math-related programs in public schools, partially based on the ease of adaptability by other school districts. Other recipients were the North Syracuse Central School District in Onondaga County and Marlboro Central School District in Ulster County.

A record 50 schools were nominated this year with winners selected by a team of nine SUNY Poly faculty and staff members.

“It was a really nice honor,” said Soanes. “It’s nice to be recognized for doing something creative for students.”

She started the program after a parent group called for enrichment activities. Soanes had already been looking into makerspace when she and Myers attended the annual Rochester Mini Maker Faire last fall and came back with a lot of ideas.