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Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

Eastside Elementary School third-graders Madison Brockett, 8, (left) and Gemma Novoa, 8, use markers to color code the movement of their tiny robots, called ozobots, in the school's new Makerspace technology classroom. Paulette Lash Ritchie | Special to the Times
Eastside Elementary School third-graders Madison Brockett, 8, (left) and Gemma Novoa, 8, use markers to color code the movement of their tiny robots, called ozobots, in the school's new Makerspace technology classroom. Paulette Lash Ritchie | Special to the Times
Published Nov. 22, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — The lab at Eastside Elementary School looks high tech, featuring new flooring, cabinets and furniture. Assistant Principal Michael Lastra calls it cutting edge.

"It's not like your typical classroom," Lastra said. "The school wanted it to be like something the students had never seen before. It's really to create a learning environment that our kids are proud of, that is unlike any classroom in the area."

Eastside, using Title I funds, turned a regular-looking classroom into something fit for a technology-themed Makerspace — a lab designed for exploration.

The lab came about, principal Mary LeDoux explained, from a district challenge to imagine what schools needed to look like over the next five years. The focal point is getting children to engage in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) activities.

And to drive home the significance of that goal, Eastside teacher Kari Amico attended a training session over the summer that presented this sobering statistic: of a half-million technology jobs available, only 52,000 college graduates can now fill them.

LeDoux and Lastra decided their students needed to be prepared for the future.

"This is really a STEAM Makerspace," Lastra said. "That's really our focal point."

The Makerspace serves students on a rotation, meaning second through fifth graders come in for a week of lab time every four weeks. Five classes use the lab each day.

Amico is the Makerspace teacher. "She's in the classroom and also works with other teachers on the technology we use in the Makerspace area," Lastra said. "We want it to be something all teachers can utilize."

There are interesting things for students on each table in the lab. Most involve some sort of technology, but one table features low-tech Lincoln Logs. Other offerings include basic block coding, robotics, stop-motion video creation, video game design and circuitry. The room also has a 3-D printer.

"It really is a wide variety of things we do in here," Lastra said. "Our goal is combine this with core instruction."

Coding is one of the important skills the faculty and administrators at Eastside want their students to learn. "Our entire staff got trained by the same coding professor that Kari had this summer," LeDoux said.

Third-grader Gemma Novoa, 8, sees the value of the classroom and thinks it's fun. "It builds up your skills to get technology," she said. Her favorite center is the Ozobots, a program which uses color to code robots.

Gemma's classmate, Madison Brockett, 8, said her favorite stop is the Osmo coding table. In this case it involves a pizza company, where students learn how to make customers happy and collect money. "They have to run their own shop," Madison said.

To complement the new program, the school has formed a STEAM Team, made up of 25 student ambassadors. They are second to fifth graders who spend non-instructional time in the lab, giving presentations to teachers, parents, community members and district officials. "They have their own tee shirts," Lastra said.

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Makerspace, Lastra noted, can also be used as an incentive for good behavior, as in extra lab time.

The class has proven so popular with students, Lastra said, parents have called asking where they can buy the things their children are enjoying using in the lab — as Christmas presents.

Madison is having fun in Makerspace now, but she still can see the long-term goal. Makerspace, she said, is "to help people build stuff, so when they get older, they can make stuff."

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