Dr Matt Bower of Macquarie University’s Department of Educational Studies seems to think so. His research report Makerspaces in Primary School Settings shows that even kindergarten-aged students are capable of innovative design solutions when given tailored instruction and access to contemporary technologies.

Set up in the school classroom, makerspaces – areas where kids can get creative with science and technology – are growing in popularity. “They allow students the chance to develop 21st century skills and STEM capabilities, while encouraging a growth mindset that is resilient to failure,” says Dr Bower.

In addition to making use of traditional physical materials such as wood, metal, paper and electronics, Dr Bower’s research shows that schools embracing a range of digital technologies to support a classroom makerspace, including 3D design software and 3D printers, encourage real-world innovation.

“These 3D technologies are revolutionising a range of industries including architecture, engineering and medicine, so teaching children 3D design capabilities from an early age sets them up for success in an increasingly technological future,” he says.

Study shows value of learning in creative makerspaces

With a new K-6 science syllabus beginning next year, some primary schools are embracing this creative new teaching trend with serious commitment. But there has been little research to support evidence-based application of that enthusiasm throughout the sector.

A team of five researchers from Macquarie University worked with three schools in the Carlingford West Public School Hub and the 3D design software company Makers Empire to investigate the impact of integrating makerspaces into the early years of schooling (K-2). The study was designed to address a concerning gap in the research literature, where there are limited findings relating to learning and teaching in makerspaces, particularly at the primary school level.

What students can achieve with technology-aided creative thinking

In the makerspaces in the Carlingford West schools, children designed keyrings, shadow puppets, a habitat for hermit crabs, headphone cable holders, spinning tops, floatable boats, herb markers, playground sculptures, bag tags, and characters for a stop-motion narrative.

Then they used software designed for their age level to create a digital version which could be printed. After their teacher printed out the 3D version for them, they tested it to see if it worked. If it didn't – if the boat sank or the shadow puppet didn't cast much shadow – they experimented again, making changes to see if they could fix the problem.

The research team also noted that the students developed a range of new skills, including creativity, problem solving, collaboration, scientific knowledge, digital literacy and resilience. “We saw very high levels of student engagement, with the majority of students wanting more lessons with the new technologies,” says Dr Bower.

Teachers also benefit from lessons held in makerspaces

An equally important aspect of the study was the substantial professional learning teachers undertook, including two days of training and instruction in how to use the Makers Empire 3D app for designing and printing 3D objects on newly-installed 3D printers in each school.

As one teacher put it: “The professional learning was an eye-opener, broadening my understanding of the ways makerspaces can be used to solve real-life problems.” Teachers said that to develop their capabilities and effectively teach in makerspaces, they needed reliable technology, collegial support, teaching resources, appropriate makerspaces, and time to build their capabilities and create lessons. In addition, they felt they were assisted by a school culture supportive of exploration and experimentation.

The study concluded that not only were the students highly engaged in the creative process of their problem-solving lessons but that their teachers were equally keen to use 3D design-based makerspaces in future classes.

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Last updated: 12 Mar 2020