The Wonder Workshop started with Paula Mitchell, the teacher behind making at Grass Valley. She had a dream to turn Grass Valley into a making school with its very own Makerspace. She attended many maker education workshops and became a member of Oakland’s Maker Fellows Program. There she met a Maker Ed Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service for America) member, who told Ms. Mitchell about the difference she was making at La Escuelita. Ms. Mitchell decided to apply to Maker Ed’s VISTA Program, and Grass Valley was granted two new AmeriCorps VISTA members.
This brings us to today: the VISTAs, Crystal Le and Maria Renteria, have been working behind the scenes of making at Grass Valley for 9 months. Recently, Maker Ed asked Miss Crystal and Miss Maria to participate in an online Q&A “Ask a Maker Educator: VISTA Edition.” They talk about why they are serving with the Maker Ed VISTA program, how they started Grass Valley’s new makerspace, and how they’ve creatively approached gathering resources and much more. Watch “Ask a Maker Educator: VISTA Edition” for their experiences and insights!
Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, CA seems almost sleepy in its Bay Area scenic setting. Nestled in the Oakland Hills, surrounded by redwoods and framed in quiet, smooth residential cul de sacs, your biggest impression when driving up to the school is the tranquility of the surrounding area. Upon further inspection, however, you’ll discover that the students and educators inside are all energetically, boldly participating and thriving in the school’s maker education program.
Though it is one of many Title 1 public schools in the Oakland Unified School District, Grass Valley is considerably unique. The bulk of its student population isn’t drawn from those nearby hills and cul de sacs. Instead, almost all students must commute 5+ miles a day to attend school there. The district offers a special bus system to the students—which travels far further than most school buses each day—to ensure students have a ride, but mostly it’s dedicated parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who make the trek with students in tow everyday. The school also serves an above average amount of high-need students, with more than a third of the students enrolled in special education.
Like many schools who decide to transition from traditional learning frameworks to fostering student-driven, hands-on learning with a STEAM focus, Grass Valley leadership tackled challenges and often slow-moving wheels as they moved to segue from adopting the idea and intention of making, to actual implementation and integration. In 2016, four teachers (two general education and two special education) and the school’s principal participated in piloting program components and regular in-depth discussions in order to determine what concretely needed to happen in order to make school-wide maker education successful for their students. Towards these research and piloting goals, one teacher, Ms. Paula Mitchell, stepped out of the classroom and into a new role as a Teacher on Special Assignment.
To take on a transformation this layered, at a school as unique as Grass Valley, is an exceptionally large task—even for educators who (aptly!) refer to their workplace as “The Little School That Could.” They quickly came to the realization that to shift to a STEAM-based curriculum that was both hands-on and project-based, they would need support from individuals and organizations. So, in the midst of launching their pilot program, they applied to partner with Maker Ed through the Maker VISTA program.
While there is no doubt that Grass Valley was already in the middle of shifting the school’s culture, the arrival of two Maker VISTA members on campus—Crystal Le and Maria Renteria—allowed the staff to hit the turbo button on the transformation. Crystal and Maria arrived with strong, shared commitment to service, education reform, and learning-on-the-spot. They also brought previous experience with STEM-based projects, museum education and curation, and boundless energy and spirit.
The first task that VISTA members Crystal and Maria tackled was the creation of Grass Valley’s first makerspace. The school staff had already decided on a room to transform: an extra classroom that was being used for storage, referred to plainly as Room 9. Before the arrival of the VISTA members, they didn’t have the capacity to oversee the redesign of the space. The Maker VISTAs got to work building furniture, arranging layout, and sorting, organizing, and collecting materials. After a month and a half, Room 9 was totally renovated, rejuvenated, and reinvented as “The Wonder Workshop.”
“With the help of the Maker Vista program, the dream of a fully functioning makerspace came to fruition,” explained Paula. “Because we had Maker VISTA members dedicated to developing and helping us implement best practices for makerspaces, our materials and resources are well organized and we have systems for keeping track of materials and ordering supplies. We utilize the space for staff professional development, workshops, and trainings. Teachers are able to use the space as additional project workspace and storage for in-process projects.”
The work didn’t end with setting up the space. The Maker VISTA superstars, along with Paula, launched a full, grand opening event via a Family Maker Night, providing the opportunity for students to access and explore the makerspace for the first time alongside their families. Crystal and Maria worked with local businesses to secure in-kind materials and raffle prizes, and recruited STEAM-industry professionals to run demo stations during the event. They created flyers, planned the making activities, and trained the volunteers who would help run the different maker stations.
These leaps and bounds didn’t slow Grass Valley or the Maker VISTA team down. In the following months, Paula, Crystal and Maria busily brainstormed project ideas, initiatives, and more maker nights. In a school-wide undertaking, students across grade levels built wooden garden boxes, learning about sustainability, nutrition, and ecosystems as they constructed with lumber and guidance sourced from a local woodworkers union by Crystal and Maria. This winter, the team organized a Black History Month Family Night and Heritage Potluck, in an evening of connecting community and culture to making. They planned numerous activities, and commissioned a panel to share diverse STEAM career paths, stories, struggles and successes with students and families. The event also spotlighted the school’s first ever Maker Ambassadors, students from three grade levels who dedicated themselves to a month of project work based on the inventions of historical African American Innovators.
Whether redefining spaces, planning events, creating partnerships in the community, or connecting heritage to making, the Maker VISTA members at Grass Valley have made impressive and significant impact within just one year. While the school’s ambitious making journey certainly didn’t start with the Maker VISTA program, the partnership has accelerated progress, boosted capacity, and increased valuation for making in this unique, driven, determined Little School That Could.
Grants enable 13 teams of California educators to engage in professional development programs that invigorate personal commitments to teaching
The Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation announced today that 13 teams of California teachers are recipients of the 2016 Leveraging Innovation by Growing and Honoring Teachers (LIGHT) Awards. Launched in 2014, the LIGHT Awards recognize creative, innovative, and passionate teachers looking to pursue high quality professional learning. The awarded teams each receive up to $30,000 over two years for projects which are tailored to the needs of their schools and communities. The grant program is designed to encourage more engaged and rewarding teaching as well as to foster community among its awardees.
Intrepid believes that teachers are in a unique position to know what types of training and projects will be most relevant and will lead to sustainable change within their classrooms, schools, and beyond. With help from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Intrepid’s LIGHT Awards Program was designed to encourage teachers to grow as leaders and innovators. Following an open application process which produced more quality applications than could be funded, teams were selected based on a number of factors, including innovative project ideas, dedication to teaching, and a passion for professional growth.
Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation Founder Karen Leshner shared, “I am delighted to welcome the 2016 cohort of LIGHT Awards teams to our community. With the addition of these new recipients, the LIGHT Awards program is impacting a total of 133 teachers working on 27 exciting projects in the greater Bay Area.”
Members of the 2016 LIGHT Awards teams teach at the following 15 schools:
Alpha José Hernández Middle School, San Jose, CA
Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, East Palo Alto, CA
Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, San Francisco, CA
Ellis Elementary School, Sunnyvale, CA
Grass Valley Elementary School, Oakland, CA
Hillsdale High School, San Mateo, CA
John McCandless STEM Charter School, Stockton, CA
June Jordan School for Equity, San Francisco, CA
Lafayette Elementary School, San Francisco, CA
Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley, CA
Madison Park Business & Art Academy, Oakland, CA
Merrill F. West High School, Tracy, CA
Mission High School, San Francisco, CA
Oakland International High School, Oakland, CA
Vargas Elementary School, Sunnyvale, CA
Examples of the awardees’ projects include:
Developing a school-wide, vertically integrated curriculum and project based learning units around the concept of flight
Developing a teaching garden as an outdoor science classroom
Building staff capacity in the dual immersion model of bilingual education
Developing skills and a framework for experienced high school math teachers to mentor new teachers
Bringing mindfulness based practices into teaching, curriculum and school culture
To accomplish the 13 awarded projects, the teachers will participate in trainings and workshops, attend conferences, work with experts and coaches, codify and share their own experiences, and establish professional learning communities.
Dr. Lucinda Taylor, Principal at Madison Park Business and Art Academy in Oakland shared, “I am confident that our team will learn a great deal over these two years that the members will be able to bring back and share with the rest of our staff in support of improved student outcomes.”
[Grass Valley’s] team of four elementary school teachers will pilot a Project Based Learning (PBL)/Maker-Centered program. To start, they will attend a PBL conference and workshop to learn the basics of creating excellent maker-based projects. Then, they will embark on courses of training to create integrated cross-curricular lessons that involve protocols, tools, and applications that are useful for evaluating and deepening their own and their students’ learning. Ultimately, they will train additional educators at their site in the PBL/Maker mindset. The team’s focus and expertise is on both general education and special needs classes. For students with special needs, the opportunity to participate in projects that highlight different ways of thinking increases engagement, confidence, and sense of belonging in the school community as a whole.
This past Thursday, Maker VISTA partner site Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, CA held a Black History Month Family Maker Night & Heritage Potluck. This event featured a little bit of everything—making, breaking bread, discussion—and a whole lot of one thing: intention.
From the night’s theme of honoring and exploring historic and modern contributions of African American innovators; to its effect of including students, parents and teachers in a convergence of both traditional and new forms of making; down to the signage that invited youth and adults alike to snap selfies among acclaimed scholars and creators so as to envision themselves as #IAmNext, this event was thoughtfully designed to both engage and reflect the members of Grass Valley’s community.
Maker VISTA members Crystal Le and Maria Renteria organized and fueled this event from start to finish, led by their phenomenal, powerhouse supervisor Paula Mitchell, a Teacher on Special Assignment for Maker Ed/PBL & Blended Learning. Together, this team solicited and comprised a panel of professionals, parents, and local makers to kick off the evening by sharing their diverse STEAM career paths, stories, struggles and successes with gathered guests. Then, Crystal, Maria and Paula choreographed a making and sharing progression down the school’s main hallway, utilizing color-coded tabs and music cues to weave students and parents in and out of pop-up classroom makerspaces. In each space, participants could take turns building their own interpretation of an African American innovator’s invention—entirely guided by a student maker. Stations in the spaces included opportunities to create lanterns, guitars, 3-D glasses, pens, three-wheeled vehicles, and even an x-ray.
A particular moment of impact emerged when one of those student makers, a giddy and expert first-grader, explained to a handful of friends and peers (and this novice, yours truly) how to construct a lantern. The experience of having us in rapt attention, grouped around her, asking her for advice—in front of her mother and grandmother—made her bounce confidently on tip-toes, eager to answer all of us. She struck exactly the braggy balance between identifying what worked for her, and encouraging us to figure out what worked best for ourselves, all while showcasing to her family what she has been troubleshooting for several weeks. Like the tea-light lantern she proudly held up, she glowed.
After the hands-on activities, students and parents convened in the cafeteria for presentations by the first-ever cohort of Grass Valley Maker Ambassadors. These four students, from 3rd through 5th grade, had devoted the entire month to researching an African American innovator and developing a project inspired by that original work. They visited the school’s makerspace, the Wonder Workshop, during recess, library time, and after-school in order to devote time and effort to their self-driven explorations. Their completed projects were met with admiration and applause from their peers and parents as they received recognition from Paula on stage—but what’s more, each shared plans for continued making.
Paula and the Maker VISTAs mindfully coordinated this evening so that they could offer varied and numerous entry points for parents, staff, and visitors to engage in the environment and with the approaches that students are diving into everyday. From the materials, to the spaces, to the voices providing real-world context—voices ranging from a PG&E apprentice, to a designer and fashion professor, to a grandmother who started her own crafting business; from a principal, to an after-school specialist, to a first-grader explaining how a lantern functions—the event was structured to include, to invite, to inspire. Whether in small steps, along the periphery of a making station, or in emphatic cheers or laughs of delighted discovery, parents and families joined young makers in homage and in aspiration. Intention, with invention, made for an amazing event.
Maker Ed & AmeriCorps VISTA are the sponsors of the two Maker Ed VISTAs at Grass Valley Elementary School. For more information about applying for the Maker Ed VISTAs program, visit makered.org.
All of a sudden, so it seems, the terms “Maker” and “PBL” are everywhere in the educational landscape. You may be wondering what each of these terms means, how they are related and how they differ. You are not alone. I myself wondered the same thing as I made my journey into the field of Maker Education and Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning and Maker Education are terms which are growing in use these days. Here are two definitions:
“Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” —The Buck Institute of Education
Maker Education brings the Maker movement into the school setting to provide students with hands-on learning that promotes creativity, thoughtfulness, a community of learning and sharing ideas, as well as, the idea that each person can create what they want to see or use as opposed to just buying it. Making combines new technologies with old-school arts and crafts and vocational education.
Maker Education focuses on bringing together Science, Math, Technology, Engineering, and Art in a student-centered, creative way. Often times Maker Education happens in a Maker Space:
“… [A] space where kids have the opportunity to make – a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise can get them started. These places, called makerspaces, share some aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio and science labs. In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.” –Dale Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, in Design, Make, Play
After having immersed myself in the field of Maker Education and Project-Based Learning for the past two years, my main takeaway is that they are quite similar. They both focus on the creation of projects, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, creativity and have the potential to foster empathy in students. The main difference is that Maker Education has a big emphasis on “hacking” or “tinkering” where you take something that already exists and makes it better or you make something entirely new for the fun of creating it. Maker Education also has a strong tech bent with the inclusion of coding, computer science, and engineering while Project-Based Learning can encompass any and all subject areas.
At Grass Valley, we are combining these two related approaches so that we use the best of both approaches. Our focus is hands-on, project-based learning where students create a product that they showcase at an expo. The Maker Project-Based Learning units can focus on any subject area and integrate a low or high tech component into the end product.
We invite you to check back here often to see where our journey in PBL/Maker Ed takes us.
4th grader creates her ideal school.
Ms. Vetterlein assists a student with a design challenge
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paula Mitchell, Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA)
Paula is a 20+ year veteran Oakland teacher who has been crafting, designing and making since she was a little girl. She is delighted that her job as a TSA for Project-Based Learning/ Maker Ed allows her to bring more hands-on, minds-on learning to the community she loves.