School of Education’s maker space to provide students with unique learning opportunities

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Boxes of materials sit on shelves and 3D printers lay on tables, ready to be used to create whatever students can imagine. What was once a computer lab in the basement of Esch Hall has been transformed into an area of hands-on learning for the University of Indianapolis’ School of Education–a maker space. 

SOE’s maker space was designed by an Indianapolis company, 1st Maker Space, and was developed to be unique to SOE by specifically designing it to teach students how to facilitate the maker space, 1st Maker Space Education Director Mary Rinehart said. A maker space is an area where students can create items ranging from 3D-printed objects to robots made from toothbrush bristles. Maker spaces task students with more open-ended questions, whereas STEM labs task students with precise instructions and a fixed problem to solve, according to Rinehart. 

“[SOE students] may have the opportunity to direct and manage or use a maker space in the school they end up in one day,” Rinehart said. “And so, it was important for a lot of the professors at the University of Indianapolis to design a space, and have a space where they can give students exposure to making and maker spaces as part of their university experience.”

The computer lab in Esch Hall’s basement was chosen as the place for the maker space because students were only using it for printing and the lab was conveniently located across the hall from an education classroom, John Somers, associate professor of teacher education, special education program coordinator and school  leadership management program coordinator and SOE graduate programs director said. 

Now, professors can take students across the hall if the maker space is needed for a lesson. 

According to Rinehart, the maker space has been in development for around five years. Somers said that the idea was picked up last summer and the next step was gathering funding and supplies from 1st Maker Space. 

Photo by Tony Reeves The School of Education’s maker space in Esch Hall has many different opportunities for students. This creation includes robots with small catapults on their backs that can shoot small basketballs into a miniature hoop.

Although the space is complete, 1st Maker Space will continue to stock the maker space with new materials and teach faculty how to use the space over the course of the next year. The space will be overseen by SOE Graduate Programs Administrative Assistant Rhonda Helterbrand, who will also help with the technology, organization and management. 

The new maker space offers students machines, tools and materials to use, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, drills and cardboard. Other items include robotic toys that students can use for coding and copper tape for building circuits that students can add LED lights to. 

Before students can begin to utilize the space, SOE faculty will be taught how to use the space first, Somers said.

“I don’t know if it’ll be once a month, that’s probably too ambitious,” Somers said. “But we want to reach out to a local school and let’s just say once a month that they would bring a group of kids in after school. Then our students, who have also been prepared to use the different tools and to do some of the projects, they would basically be in charge of running those projects for the K through five kids.”

The technology that education students will learn and use in the maker space may not be relevant for them in the future, Rinehart said. However, she hopes that the tools will help students build the confidence to work with any 3D printer or any other high-tech tool that comes their way. 

This space teaches students 21st century skills such as collaboration, learning from mistakes, creativity and critical thinking Somers said. 

Photo by Tony Reeves Educators across the state of Indiana visited the University of Indianapolis on Sept. 16 for an open house at the maker space. Meghan Bednarek and Jessica Blechoft were gazing at the materials that have been created there.

“Creativity is the big thing,” Somers said. “A lot of critics of American education say kids are losing the capacity to be creative and we think that maker spaces will resurrect, or instill, more creativity in our undergraduates and our students.” 

At the moment, only education students can use the maker space, however, in the future, the space may be open to more students. According to Somers, discussions between the School of Engineering, the School of Art and Design and SOE are taking place to talk about sharing their maker spaces for other students to use.

One thing that 1st Maker Space President Kim Brand hopes education students get from the space is confidence in the projects they will create in the maker space. 

“We live in a world where a lot of kids in particular, and even adults, start these challenges lacking confidence,” Brand said. “They answer the question ‘Can you do this?’ by saying ‘No’…And we think that is a critical problem and we think that we can make a difference [by] getting more youth to answer that question ‘Yes,’ by letting them have the little victories that you have in a maker space.”

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