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Part 1, Curriculum and Makerspaces – A dynamic space for learning and play


Guest blog - Jackie Child

Softlink is delighted to introduce guest blogger Jackie Child, Teacher Librarian at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane and author of the TinkeringChild.com blog. Jackie is a passionate primary educator with over 40 years’ experience and a sessional tutor for pre-service teachers at Griffith University.

Tinkering Child

In this series of blog posts, Jackie shares her experience working with students across all grade levels to address a range of curriculum objectives through tech-centred activities in the school’s library/makerspace.

This first post focuses on creative coding activities that address elements of the STEM curriculum, with suggested resources to support teaching and learning in this area.

St Aidan’s Library Makerspace – a dynamic space for learning and play

Two and a half years ago, my teaching partner Megan Daley and I saw the potential of our library at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School becoming the home of a ‘Makerspace’. After a great deal of research into the Maker movement, and realising the concept fitted so well with our pedagogy of constructivism and constructionism, we decided it was a must!

So, our journey began with ‘low tech’ and ‘medium tech’ activities stimulated by literature which, over time, led to more ‘high tech’ activities.

Learning to code

Coding was a focus two years ago in our library lessons and reading books like Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas, with follow-up activities from the back of the book, was an ideal way to introduce coding to our younger students.

For example, early in the story, when Ruby needs correct instructions, as computers do (algorithms), students sequenced instructions to complete a task, like packing a school bag and feeding a pet. Some students role played the task and others played charades.

Another activity from the back of the book was understanding and using ‘Booleans’. Students made cards, which they held up as toys from a puppet theatre were used to make statements that required other students to hold up a card stating either ‘true’ or ‘false’.

Year 3 students used the activity from Hello Ruby to construct their own laptop. They had so much fun deciding if it was going to be Apple, Microsoft or Linux.

Throughout the story further connections were made using coding apps on the iPads. For example, Kodable tied in very well with clues and completing a quest, just like the Fuzz Family who land on Smeeborg and needed help navigating the techno mazes.

These activities are all unplugged and cover many aspects of the English and Mathematics Curriculum like sequencing, algorithms, patterns, structures as well as aspects in the Digital Technologies Curriculum like iteration, debugging, Booleans, branching and computational thinking.

The website Hello Ruby Adventures in Coding provides many resources to help introduce students to coding.

Making for fun

Our Makerspaces provide space and tools for students to tinker, play, create and explore new ideas with or without technology. The space can be used before school, during lunchtimes and after school. It is used by our Coding and Robotics Club and STEMies Club at set times.

During these times, students are presented with a task or project to challenge themselves. Both clubs incorporate technology into activities; for example, working with EL (Electroluminescent) wire and using it to enhance objects. EL wire is a thin copper wire coated in a phosphor which glows when an alternating current is applied to it, producing a 360 degree unbroken line of visible light. Its thin diameter makes it flexible and ideal for use in a variety of applications, such as clothing or costumes. It comes in many colours with connections to a battery pack with inverter; it produces a cool light without heat and can be glued or sewn.

Another activity was designing and making a DrawBot using glue guns, wire-strippers, wire, batteries, switches and motors.

During Coding and Robotics Club, girls enjoy many of the ‘unplugged’ activities and learn visual programming with Scratch. The highlight each year is participating in the First LEGO League competition, where the girls design and build a robot to complete set missions and prototype concepts to solve a real situation or issues they have investigated.

Outside of club times and lesson times the students have the opportunity to engage in building and constructing their own creations or bought projects. A few girls followed the blue print to build a Piper Computer and play Minecraft on it! They are now building an XY Plotter. Students often bring in their own materials, equipment and projects to work on and invite others to collaborate and have fun together. They often fail along the way but they’re learning all the time in a stress-free, stimulating and inviting environment.

Read more in the Curriculum and Makerspaces series