Brechin Elementary SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

By September 4, 20202019-2020 Case Study

School Name: Brechin Elementary

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Wendy Robertson:, Ian Drown:, Lisa Brett:, Marc Daneault:, Laurie Mathieson:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To establish a Makerspace and “Making” to increase student engagement at school.

Scanning: We interviewed several students and orally asked them the four questions. The most important information we gained from asking these questions was that there was a general lack of engagement with learning. Asking questions about favourite memories and activities at school was helpful, as it allowed us to know what excites our children and helped us to start creating a more engaging learning environment.

The OECD’s seven principles of learning focused and guided us as we created our Makerspace. In particular, we focused on creating a space and learning experiences that placed students at the center of their learning, respected and supported the social and emotional aspects of learning, the complex individual needs of our students, required our students to stretch themselves and helped students build horizontal connections. The First Peoples Principles of Learning also guided us as we planned and implemented our Makerspace. The main principles that guided us were:

– Learning ultimately supports the wellbeing of the self.
– Learning is holistic, reflective, experiential and relational.
– Learning involves patience and time.

Focus: Students have been increasingly expressing a dislike for school and a lack of focus on their lessons and assignments. In response, Brechin wanted to make learning fun for the students and kindle in them a joy for learning and school experience. If a Makerspace could help make that happen, maybe it would spread and students would take a greater interest in their academic subjects. We have been guided in our belief that, “We are born MAKERS. We move what we’re learning from our heads, through our hearts, to our hands.” — Dr. Brené Brown

Hunch: Brechin Elementary has many school goals which include raising the literacy and numeracy rates, as well as the well-being of each of its students. To reach these goals, regular efforts like one-to-one tutoring, small group instruction, and use of fresh and current teaching materials are offered by a wrap-around staff of professionals.

Despite these efforts, the students at Brechin routinely show lower than average results in the areas of reading, writing and math. It is neither accurate nor productive to blame this on just the teacher or the student. Instead, changing the methods of instruction must be considered. The addition of a Makerspace to the school was seen by the staff as an indirect, but potentially effective, way to reach Brechin’s goals.

Many of the academic supports at Brechin target an area of concern for the purpose of building up capacity. For example, if a student is struggling in reading, a special program may be developed for them that consists of carefully chosen books and increased instructional time with a reading specialist. In other words, if reading is a concern, the solution would be to read more but with extra support. Such an approach, over time, is often effective but can also have mixed results.

The staff recognized that some causal factors for the low literacy and numeracy rates had less to do with the students’ cognitive capacities, and more to do the negative attitudes towards school and disengagement from learning that many of the students were bringing to the classroom. Students have been increasingly expressing a dislike for school and a lack of focus on their lessons and assignments. In response, Brechin wanted to make learning fun for the students and kindle in them a joy for learning and the school experience. If a Makerspace could help make that happen, maybe it would spread and students would take a greater interest in their academic subjects.

New Professional Learning: As a team we read articles and researched the work of some of the trailblazers in the Makerspace movement. We mostly used the following resources:

Makerspaces in School: A Month-by-Month Schoolwide Model for Building Meaningful Makerspaces by Lacy Brejcha.

At our PLC meetings, we discussed what we had read and used in our learnings to direct our implementation. We had some initial readings and then our learning became a little more organic as we shared the resources we had stumbled upon in the process of reading about Makerspaces.

One very strong message we garnered from our research was that it was imperative to have a well organized Makerspace. The possibilities and materials needed for a Makerspace are endless, so we needed some direction to get started. In order to be inclusive and build excitement with our teachers, the NOII team sent out an email inviting all staff to choose one project they would like to do to get started. Just in case teachers had no idea what to do and felt overwhelmed with the very idea of using the Makerspace (this was true of some staff), we sent out a selection of possible entry level Makerspace activities that teachers could choose. Every teacher selected a project, and the initial stocking of the Makerspace was with the supplies needed for the initial class projects. Many of these supplies were very generic and will be used with many, many more projects. In our teams invitation, teachers were given the choice of doing the activity with their class themselves, with the support of the teacher-librarian (collaborative-teaching), or the teacher-librarian would facilitate the activity. We felt it was very important to make the whole process as easy and non-threatening as possible, so we could all be successful.

Taking Action: * For an article that describes our Makerspace and provides some photographs, please read pp.5-8:

As explained above, we initiated and resourced the Makerspace in a manner that supported each class to do a project. Due to the pandemic, we did not do all of these projects. However, for those we did do, they were a great success. These initial projects were mostly very simple (start small) as we wished to create opportunities for all to feel successful (teachers and students), as well as introduce the design process which is an important and necessary foundation for “Making”.

In addition to our class specific Maker Projects, we “kicked off our Makerspace with a whole school Makerspace Activity. It was during Literacy week, when all students designed and created a potato to represent their favourite book character (building horizontal connections with literacy). Students were introduced to and used the design process to create their potato characters and had a great deal of fun in the process (emotional engagement, well being of self, experiential). The whole process celebrated the social aspect of learning with students, sharing ideas, and creating together. In addition, this project enabled every child to both participate and stretch themselves as learners and creators (learning takes patience and time); thus, students were at the center of the learning. We celebrated the end of the project and literacy week with a baked potato lunch for the whole community, which although is not a Makerspace activity, added to building a sense of community. The building of a strong sense of community is key to the emotional well being of our students, and this emotional well being is integral to learning. As a first whole school project for our inquiry, this was a resounding success and we saw so many students engaged and joyful in the learning process.

Checking: With a pandemic, it is hard to know how much of a difference we made as we did not have enough time to observe. In the short time we did use the Makerspace, we saw some shifts in the attitude towards learning while in the space. It is early days, and it would be premature to state that those positive attitudes have translated to the classroom and academic subjects. We did not have an opportunity to ask the 4 questions again due to the way we ended the school year; however, in the time we did have, we saw many examples of seeing students engaged, excited and with massive smiles on their faces. We wish we could measure smiles and use that as our evidence, as we would have so much evidence of positive change. Considering the year, the changes were enough; however, we have no hard evidence at this point- except for beautiful smiles and the occasional squeal of joy.

In order to keep the momentum going for Making, we maintained a page on the school blog which we created during Covid 19. Our page on the school blog was primarily dedicated to creative Makerspace activities that could be primarily done with the limited resources many of our students have at home.

To see our projects on the school page:

Here is one quote from our kindergarten teacher, that summarizes her thoughts about the maker space and her students’ continuation of Making during the pandemic: “I believe in the power of the Makerspace to help increase engagement with all learners but in our inner-city school the effects seem more dramatic. Many of our learners come to school hungry, often witnessing trauma or feeling the weight of their young lives. Our school has been working towards improving our school community and specifically increased engagement with the students. Our new Makerspace has been instrumental in boosting engagement! The kids are excited to do the projects that our amazing School Librarian or their classroom teachers assign. During our on-line learning, I would assign a “maker-space” task and each week this was one of the assignments that was completed most often. It is such an outlet for their creativity.” – Mrs. Brett

Reflections/Advice: We feel we had a successful start to our Makerspace initiative, even with the shortened school year. We plan to continue with this inquiry as we have seen evidence of increased student engagement and want to see what happens over an extended period of time. We feel our hunch was right and we definitely have an inquiry that must be continued.

Advice to other schools:
– Get an idea of the why of having a maker space (philosophy)
– Get some money to get you started
– Start small, build success
– Teach the design process
– Be organized, super organized
– Be passionate about “Making” and don’t be scared to make mistakes
– Be very supportive and collaborative – we have learned so much from each other

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