Arroyo Vista Elementary | Collaborative Work Spaces Launched

The launch of AV’s “Makerspace” represents the cross section of these three focuses: a commitment to nurturing, inspiring, and educating the next generation.

PHOTO: Arroyo Vista Elementary | South News | Makerspaces are hands-on STEM focused learning programs, which had a profound social-emotional impact on the students during their return to campus.
Written by Ryan Dwyer
The impacts of distance learning on our children after more than a year away from campus are undeniable. However, as the students of Arroyo Vista Elementary School returned with both excitement and anticipation for the ’20-’21 school year, second year Principal Kim Sinclair was re-energized in their mission “to provide students opportunities to develop their potential intellectually, socially and emotionally.” The launch of AV’s “Makerspace” represents the cross section of these three focuses: a commitment to nurturing, inspiring, and educating the next generation.
A Makerspace program is defined as “collaborative work spaces inside a school…for making, learning, exploring, and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.” Principal Sinclair had a vision to create a Makerspace at Arroyo Vista, and the unique and unusual circumstances brought forth by the pandemic presented her with the  opportunity to realize that vision.

Principal Sinclair had previously developed a robotics program at Marengo Elementary (also in South Pasadena) and had envisioned launching a more robust Makerspace program at Arroyo Vista after transferring to the school in August of 2020. While still in hybrid learning in the spring of 2021, Sinclair organized a committee of teachers to begin exploring resources for creating a place where students could explore robotics, science, art, engineering, and carpentry with an emphasis on 21st century collaboration.

The committee agreed that not only would the new STEM-focused program have to enhance (and not just add to) the school’s Twig Science curriculum, but also it must be hands-on and student driven; facilitated by someone other than the current staff; and support the overall social-emotional well-being of our student body during their re-entry to campus.

A veteran of Arroyo Vista, retired former Kindergarten teacher Ann Davis-Martinez, who had not planned on leaving the classroom until the pandemic caused her to reevaluate, stepped up to lead the new initiative. Davis-Martinez’s familiarity and relationships with the school and community leadership, in addition to decades of experience in classrooms with the curriculum, made her uniquely situated to lead the Makerspace program at AV.

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Davis-Martinez secured the initial startup funds to launch a TK-2nd pilot program through a South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) grant. The program is also supported generously by AV’s PTA and school site funding. In need of a permanent but flexible space, the school’s Multi Purpose Room (MPR) provided the ideal venue for the students to explore the various technologies, like KIBO, a screen-free programmable robotics kit that is highly popular among students.

KIBO robots are constructed by students and programmed using a series of wooden command blocks. Beyond just teaching coding, KIBO exercises connect language arts, engineering, and collaboration skills. In their first sessions, students begin by scanning and building an assigned code. By their 3rd session, they are able to program the KIBO robots to navigate the cityscape rugs on the floor of the Makerspace.

Recently, 2nd graders expanded on the cityscape concept, creating their own “story maps,” following a character’s storyline from books they were assigned as part of other classroom curriculum. In other classes, KIBO’s have been converted to snow plows, with students having to adjust the robot’s height and movements in an exploration of the concepts of force and motion.

The KIBO exercises sought to encourage collaboration and patience amongst the students. Each activity required a team debrief to better understand the technical aspects of an assignment before moving to something more complex. Fifth grade helpers worked with younger students but were encouraged to allow the younger students to figure things out on their own through trial and error and exploration. These approaches reinforced the Makerspace ideology of starting small and simple, to build enthusiasm and momentum. It also highlights the evolving skill sets and cross-team collaboration required in the modern workplace.

Something heartwarming also happened in just the first few months of the Makerspace programming: KIBO enhanced the students’ social-emotional well-being during their return. The first weeks back in the fall were challenging and students responded differently than they had pre-pandemic. However, teachers quickly noticed the resiliency of students when they finally were able to sit down in-person together, on rugs spread across the MPR, to troubleshoot, collaborate, and continue to persevere.

Makerspace is only in its first year at AV, but support is already widespread. Teachers value being able to move to another space to create, and they value the opportunity for students to learn to work responsibly with a team and with expensive technology. While the program is currently focused on TK-2, in the coming years, Davis-Martinez and Sinclair intend to expand by adding tech components, circuit-to-circuit boards, and more KIBO’s for upper grades. They also hope to utilize professional development funding to train and to expose Makerspace to more teachers.