Teachers at Olson Middle School have found ways to unlock students’ creative spirit that doesn’t involve sitting behind a desk.
On Monday, OMS held an open house to unveil its Makerlab, the brainchild of teachers Matt Regan, Kendal Sass, Bryon Hoehn and Jen Holberg. About a year ago, the teachers had an idea of converting an underutilized computer lab connected to the middle school’s library into a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab. Through STEM, students can learn through an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
With help from the Mauston School District, teachers received an instructional leadership grant and the OMS Makerlab was born. The lab opened at the beginning of the school year. Hoehn said the lab is gaining in popularity, with sixth graders heavily involved in the creative format.
“The biggest thing is that it allows the kids to figure out concepts by themselves,” Hoehn said.
Through technology and science, students learn how to solve complex problems through experimentation. Hoehn said it teaches kids to forge ahead even when a project becomes daunting. Since the launch of the Makerlab, students have collaborated to build projects, improving communication, creativity and critical thinking skills. Educators at OMS hope the lab will increase 21st Century skills-based learning opportunities for their students.
Eighth grader Ethan Moud created a video game through Bloxels, a hands-on platform for kids to tell stories through video. At Monday’s open house, first grader Abby West had fun drawing a butterfly with 3-D pens. Tyler Locken, a seventh grader, joined some of his buddies by operating a remote-controlled “sphero” down the hallway, while others flew small drones.
Locken also designed scripts through Google CS to create online games and other programs. After completing a project, students earn badges and place them in a passport for teachers. In the passports, students can also chart their progress with notes and observations.
“You can make all this weird stuff,” Locken said. “You can basically make anything you want, like weird, dancing creatures through androids, little movies, comics, calendars … anything. I’ve made all kinds of games through CS to basically bring joy to people. It’s a cool, little website.”
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Locken said technology aspects are endless in the Makerlab, especially with website coding.
“Usually Ms. Sass brings us in here at least once a week,” Locken said. “For our lunch hour, we have 30 minutes before lunch and this is what we do. A lot of kids in my class have used it to express their feelings, like if you’re mad about the election, you can make something about Trump. You can do whatever you want.”
Through Makey Makey, an invention kit, students can use everyday materials to replace keyboards and mice for their computers. One of the most popular devices is the BreakoutEDU, which features games that are extremely engaging and teaches teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving and troubleshooting techniques. On iPads, students can use apps to experiment with stop animation.
The main goal of Makerlab is to allow kids to use what they’ve learned and apply it to their everyday lives.
“There has been some talk to move this to the high school with some more advanced programs,” Hoehn said. “Right now, this is just a great place for kids to learn and explore; they’re engaged all the time. They’re learning and they don’t even know it.”
On Friday, State Senator Howard Marklein visited the Makerlab as part of an educational tour through the 17th district.
“Most of the kids like it, but you have to come in with an open mind,” Hoehn said.
OMS also received building funds, along with help from DonorsChoose that allows people to make anonymous donations. The lab is currently looking for several supplies to help students build projects.