Building a Makerspace

There was palpable excitement in the former Longfellow Middle School cafeteria, soon to be re-purposed into a Makerspace, as students and their families arrived for a community work day to help build work tables. Tools, measuring tapes, and fasteners were organized in separate bins while the lumber was neatly arranged on one side. Matt Hinckley, a Longfellow science and Makerspace teacher, gathered everyone around a model table where he explained that the volunteers would be working in teams to build a total of a dozen tables. With detailed layout plans in hand, the students and adults began the work of constructing and drilling tables together.

The journey to this moment started in 2015 when the Schools Fund learned that Longfellow was constructing a new cafeteria and talked to school leaders about re-purposing the old cafeteria as a Makerspace­­––a place where science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) come to life through hands-on learning. Interest in the project grew, and in 2016, Longfellow was chosen by Maker Ed, a national nonprofit that promotes maker education for undeserved youth, to receive support for curriculum development and teacher training––crucial ingredients for its success.

As Mr. Hinckley describes, “Maker education dovetails with our school wide focus because it adds a real-world connection to students’ learning, lays a groundwork for learning career skills, integrates technology in a way that matters to students, and teaches self-determination through planning and carrying out independent engineering projects. We know that many of our students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not successful at Longfellow because they don’t experience a connection between their academic learning and real life. Creating projects that integrate engineering challenges, tinkering, making and technology with students’ math, science and language arts learning, will give those subjects relevance.”

In addition to Maker Ed’s program support, BUSD’s Career Technical Education Department will be connecting programming and resources to the Makersapce at Longfellow. Also Cal State East Bay’s Institute for STEM Education, is co-locating a “Circle Lab,” which offers more traditional science programming to supplement the hands-on learning at the Makerspace. With the Schools Fund’s ongoing support, Longfellow will eventually serve as a Science Hub for the entire district with teacher training and a library for teachers to check out tools, materials and project kits.

However, the day’s focus was on worktables, the first building blocks of the Makerspace. Students were working alongside their families, peers, and teachers. A Longfellow alumna attended to work alongside her Longfellow math teacher to build tables. The vision of the Makerspace becoming a communal space for students to engage in a variety of STEAM projects was coming true as they participated in making it a reality with their own hands.

Berkeleyside was there at the community work day, too. Read their article here.