Indian Mills students build technology skills beyond the screen

Makerspace has become haven for students learning virtually

Indian Mills Memorial School student Carmine Darrigo builds a robot in the school’s makerspace. The room in the library offers resources for students to complete projects using technology like 3D printers, green screens and more (Amanda Vogelei/Special to The Sun).

At Indian Mills Memorial School, the library is no longer just a place for reading and research.

Walk past the stacks and you’ll come across an unassuming door. Open it and you’ll find the school’s makerspace, with students building robots, filming stop  motion movies or coding a video game.

“It’s really just this creative space for students to come in and explore an interest they have or passion that they have with technology integrated,” said Media Specialist Amanda Vogelei. 

The makerspace gives students access to different materials and resources for building and creating. They can use a green screen to make a video, build objects on a 3D printer, explore a new world with virtual reality and more.

Each of the projects teaches students technical skills, but Vogelei said no matter their future career path, students leave the makerspace with the ability to problem solve.

“Everything you do in life, you’re creatively trying different solutions until your problem is solved,” she explained. “I think that perseverance and that endurance is being developed through projects in our makerspace.”

The pandemic left the makerspace with its own problem: How do you get remote students involved?

Vogelei put together take-home technology kits for virtual students. They can choose one of four projects, including a robot, circuit, augmented reality or video- game design, and each kit comes with all the materials needed and a recorded lesson. Students can also take projects home, and after a week, they can return them and check out another.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from students on that,” Vogelei noted. “It just solves that issue of, how are we still going to get this creative technology in the hands of students?”

The makerspace has also helped to ease COVID-induced stress among students. They can go to the library during class and recess or as part of an after-school club, to tune out the noise and focus on their projects.

“They’re able to choose something that they’re really passionate about and get invested in,” Vogelei said, adding that the makerspace is less formal than a traditional class.

“They’re able to kind of sit back and enjoy themselves, and they’re really passionate. That’s been nice to see, and I do think that kind of helps them this year,” she added.

In a year where most of learning takes place in front of a screen, Vogelei created  lessons that don’t require a computer or tablet. She recently taught students how to make a circuit board out of Play-Doh.

“It’s nice to see how we can still use technology and can still create with technology, but not necessarily be glued to a Chromebook or an iPad,” Vogelei  noted.

“They’re able to take that mental break and come and work on something that they’re truly invested in.”