WILLIAMS BAY — Ella Jahns was creating a stop-motion animation using a posable wooden figure.
The Williams Bay Elementary School fifth grader made the action figure’s clothing out of Play-Doh.
“This guy is going to come into a dressing room and put on some clothes,’ Jahns said. “He’s going to put on a fashion show.”
She completed the short 10-second video before the end of her “makerspace” class.
Makerspace is an educational program that challenges students to solve problems using cardboard, Legos, and art supplies. Students can also learn skills in computer coding, robotics and advanced tools such as laser cutters.
Williams Bay Elementary started experimenting with makerspace this year. The class is limited to 20 fourth- and fifth-graders who were selected from a list of gifted and talented students.
The class meets twice a month in Holly Mulhall’s art classroom for about 40 minutes to work with computers, construction paper and modeling clay as students try to create new things.
Walworth Elementary School has had makerspace as a part of its school day for the past four years.
At Walworth, every student in the K-8 school is involved in the program, which runs for 30 minutes every day.
Walworth third-grader Annalina Schultz reared back and let fly with her paper airplane. On this day, the challenge was to build a paper airplane that could soar straight and true for 30 feet.
Teacher Brent Wilson, who leads the makerspace program, set up a test course down a hallway. Joining Wilson in working with students in makerspace were art teachers Ted Beauchaine and Rachel Roemer.
“Yesterday was design day,” said Wilson, who said the third- and fourth-graders went online to find paper airplane designs.
After some careful folding and testing, the youngsters toed the line to test their designs.
Unfortunately, none of the airplanes succeeded in reaching the 30-foot line, but some unusual designs did very well. Annalina’s, for example, gained some impressive altitude, skimming the school ceiling, before falling back to earth.
At Williams Bay, library media specialist Amy Mitchell and Mulhall went to a workshop on makerspaces in Madison, along with Gail Bixler, the school’s technology integration specialist.
“They were doing great things with kids after school,” Mitchell said.
There are no grades, and the class does not give credit.
But it is fun.
Makerspace combines a number of disciplines, including art, science, technology and math.
“The word ‘playing,’ gets a bad rap, but playing is how we learn,” Mulhall said.
Mitchell said they wanted to test the makerspace program and with Williams Bay gifted and talented students before opening the program for other students.
“We’re hoping to bring on more teachers so we can expand the program,” she said.
At Walworth Elementary, older students in seventh and eighth grade design their own projects, with teacher approval. They are creating decorative signs out of wood or building tables.
Like Williams Bay, the Walworth makerspace program is not graded.
“I don’t want students to have a fear of failure,” Wilson said.
“They should fail sometimes,” added Roemer, noting that failure is a part of learning.
Schools are adapting the makerspace concept because students will need problem-solving skills in the future workforce, Wilson said.
The workplace is changing drastically, and education has to change to keep up, he said.
“When an elementary school kids enters the workforce, 60 percent of the jobs in existence then don’t even exist yet,” he said. “Ten years ago, ‘app designer’ didn’t exist, and the job of social media manager didn’t exist.”
Although the Williams Bay students at the Feb. 19 makerspace session were working with computers and computer programs, Mulhall said that when the school’s makerspace program started in October, it did not have any tech in it.
“We had challenges, where they had to solve a problem using only cardboard, or a mystery bag with random objects they had to connect together without using tape or glue,” Mulhall said.
She said in addition to stretching youngsters’ minds, makerspace also exercises their fine motor skills as they manipulate objects and clay.
“So many kids are glued to their tablets and their fine motor skills aren’t used,” she said.
Youngsters trying different skills to solve problems, Mulhall said, is “the most literal form of learning.”