Beginning with the revamp of their Design & Technology workshop into a design and makerspace, teachers and students at Commonwealth Secondary School have embraced maker education in their curriculum and beyond.
It was dark, sometimes dirty, and usually empty. Only one to two upper secondary classes used the Design & Technology (D&T) workshop for their GCE N-Level coursework.
Noticing that the space was underutilized and taking into consideration their school’s Total Curriculum Framework, teachers from Commonwealth Secondary School (CWSS) started to look into how they could redesign this workshop into a makerspace for all students.
An Upward Spiral: The Creativity Framework
Mr Eugene Lee, Head of Department of Research, Innovation and Design at CWSS, talks about Constructionism as a learning theory, and how it calls for students to apply what they learn.
“We want to make Constructionism part of our curriculum in school,” explains Eugene. “We believe that learning occurs when you connect a new experience to existing knowledge.”
“The emphasis is not on the theory, but getting the students to try it out and learn actively in a hands-on manner,” he adds.
And the best way to do this is to have the students make something, and then show and share it. This reflects the school’s creativity framework that resembles an upward spiral.
“We want the students to go through this process of imagining, creating, experimenting, sharing their work, and then reflecting before spiraling back up to imagining again,” Eugene says.
He is of the opinion that not only does maker activities inspire inventive thinking, they also help students develop soft skills when they collaborate for projects.
The Making of a Makerspace
Mdm Rubiyah Binte Kamis, Subject Head for Craft and Tech at CWSS, was part of the team that worked on the redesign and renovation of the D&T space.
Along with her colleagues from the English Language (EL) and Humanities departments, she brainstormed with facilitators from Singapore Polytechnic to conceptualize the new space.
“We adopted the methodology of design thinking such as understanding users’ needs and gathering insights collaboratively,” shares Rubiyah.
“I enjoyed the diversity of the teachers working together, as it uncovered different perspectives as to how we want to use the space creatively.”
The design-thinking process to revamp the space took about 6 months; the renovation took about 4 months. By April of 2015, the space was ready – not just for D&T teachers and students, but for students across all subjects.
“We had to redesign the space to make sure it was usable not just for D&T but other departments as well, to enthuse them into making something,” Eugene says.
The new space is now bright and open and much more organized. The workshop is now separated from the main space which features mobile furniture and whiteboards. These features allow teachers and students to quickly and easily shape the space to suit their use.
With the makerspace ready, the teachers began to put in place programmes that encourage students to become makers.
Maker Activities in the Curriculum and Beyond
We believe that learning occurs when you connect a new experience to existing knowledge.
– Eugene Lee, Commonwealth Secondary School
To integrate maker activities into the curriculum in a meaningful way, each subject has their own alternative assessment that utilizes hands-on activities.
“When we can engage students meaningfully through maker activities, their intense energy and focus on their projects can be leveraged to bring benefits for them,” says Eugene.
Some subjects that have maker components featured include Math, Science and even EL.
Rubiyah showcases some objects that students made for their EL classes. Among them are a bag made from floppy disks and cable ties, a shield and sword, and Thor’s hammer – items that students brought to life based on the books they have read.
For Math, students did origami, made models and used software to design logos and create shapes using graphs.
“Besides the integration of maker activities into classes, we also wanted students to drop by the makerspace to work on their own projects outside of the curriculum,” shares Rubiyah.
This led to the birth of Maker Thursdays – a weekly 2.5-hour workshop facilitated by teachers from the Craft and Tech department conducted at the makerspace every Thursday.
“Students can come and work on anything they like within the confines of the design space”, Rubiyah remarks.
Another extra-curricular programme includes a partnership with Sustainable Living Lab, whereby students take part in a “Repair Kopitiam” initiative (see box story below).
Final Piece of the Puzzle: Professional Development
During Rubiyah’s sharing of the planning process for the makerspace, she notes, “The place and programmes were in place, and it’s down to the people. They were actually the most important part of the planning as you need to get teachers on board.”
Teacher capacity was built by sending the teachers, including herself, to the Centre for Research and Applied Learning in Science (CRADLƩ) – a teaching and Research & Design hub at the Science Centre Singapore.
“At CRADLƩ, we picked up hardware and software tools like Arduino, Makey Makey, simple programming and coding and the hacking of toys using simple electronics,” shares Rubiyah. This did not involve just D&T teachers, but the Humanities, EL and Science departments as well.
“They need to know the things that they can do, use, or make in their curriculum,” notes Rubiyah.
The school also took part in a maker symposium that was held earlier in March. Through that, the school gained more awareness and knowledge of the current maker scene in Singapore. This helped when they were implementing their maker activities.
Eugene and Rubiyah are both encouraged by what they are seeing so far, even though they are unable to quantify the project’s success based on the students’ grades.
“What’s important is to see most of them taking that first step of courage to try something new,” Rubiyah says. “Even when they failed, they knew that it was not the end of it and they didn’t give up.”
The purpose of the maker education programmes is to enrich their students’ learning experience under the school creativity framework. Rubiyah adds, “What better way to invoke the spirit of inquiry and curiosity than to indulge in the making and failing, and eventually realizing that there’s a lot more you can explore beyond textbooks?”