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Midvale Journal

Midvale Middle’s makerspace fosters a love of learning through exploration

Apr 09, 2024 11:48AM ● By Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School students build and program a robot at lunchtime in the school’s makerspace. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Sixth-grader Olivia Day comes to Midvale Middle’s makerspace at lunchtime.

“I like making circuit boards and messing around with the Spheros,” she said. “It’s really cool.”

She was by the stacks of books while others circled the stations on tables on the other side of the media center.

Eighth-grader Zayden Hooper comes to makerspace for the technology.

“I’ve built this robot six times and every time, it’s different,” he said. I’ve taught myself. I want to be an engineer and so I’m learning how to create something structurally here and having fun.”

Eighth-grader James Che was also at the Cubelet table with him. James wants to be aerospace engineer, a pilot and an aviation owner.

“It’s fun figuring what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “I’ve learned how to build a robot. It’s all fun.”

They are among the 65 students who come in on average during lunchtime to check out the makerspace.

Makerspaces, in the simplest terms, are places where people, or “makers,” create, or “make,” projects using a variety of hands-on and digital tools. 

Teacher librarian/media specialist Judy Rembacz started makerspace at Midvale Middle three years ago so “kids can be kids.”

“Many of our students don’t know how to play, they don’t know how to create on their own or problem-solve,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to do just that. The purpose of makerspace is for kids to be able to create and learn on their own and find their interest.”

Students learn and create with snap circuits, tangrams, KEVA planks, Intelino trains, Cubelets, puzzles, Spheros, Makey Makeys and other STEM tools during lunch periods four days per week at the school.

“They don’t come to listen to me. They want to go and play and they figure it out and help each other. In fact, I love it when they teach me,” Rembacz said. “When people think of makerspace, they think STEM, but it’s really about problem-solving. It’s about being able to go about a problem and find a solution.”

She said that by trial and error, students also are learning.

“They learn it’s OK if they don’t get it the first time. It takes several tries to get it right. That’s what we need to teach our students; they need to know how to problem-solve by failing and then trying again,” Rembacz said. “We learn by our failures, our mistakes. Makerspace gives them the opportunity to do so, not by us saying, ‘Let’s do it this way.’ This gives them the opportunity to learn and grow.”

The makerspace also is different than a classroom where it’s curriculum-driven, she said.

“Here they are being themselves, directing what they do and how they go about it rather than me or another teacher coaching them. They have that freedom of choice and they’re getting the opportunity to self-educate themselves,” Rembacz said, adding that many of them have become friends across the grades as they share common interests. “I love the connections they are making with each other here at the school and sometimes, kids just need a place of refuge where they can find themselves whether it’s in a book or hanging out with friends in makerspace. I’m happy to provide that space where they can just breathe, feel safe and belong.”

She wrote grants to acquire the supplies for the makerspace and has helped give insight to Canyons School District as they created STEAM kits for schools to check out.

“I want makerspace to be a place of discovery and to give students options at each of the stations,” Rembacz said. “Students are tinkering with their hands and they’re thinking with their brains. This allows us to explore, but it also helps us to cope and connect. It makes us question, examine and re-examine. It challenges us to wonder why something is the way it is and how it works and even, how it can be better. It all begins with having the freedom to learn and fail and think critically.” λ