Maker Education as a Tool to Deepen Talent

Hillel Day School sixth grader Rebecca Mills loves to spend her lunch and recess periods in the Hillel Day School makerspace, immersing herself in art, sewing, jewelry making and even drilling, and mentoring younger students who similarly find their way there. “The makerspace suits my temperament,” she says. “There’s a sense of pleasure when you’re choosing to do something you enjoy, rather than being forced to do something you don’t—like go outdoors or finish your homework,” she says with a smile. In the makerspace, an expansive hub containing machines, manipulatives, technology and tools, Rebecca has discovered an environment in which she can pursue her creativity, learn through trial and error, and share her knowledge with others.

Like Rebecca, eighth grader Celia Levy has found a natural home in the makerspace, where she takes inspiration from a bare canvas and turns it into something tangible, as she did when she chiseled an intricate spoon out of wood or created one-of-a-kind, vinyl-printed onesies. “The makerspace has changed my perspective,” Celia says. “Where I once saw blank objects, I see potential. I want to continue to see everything in my life through a creative eye, and I love working with my hands—it’s therapeutic. I come into the makerspace, and I can get lost there for hours.”

Celia shares her sense of wonder with her peers, guiding them in 3D printing and laser cutting, woodworking and jewelry making, and sharing what she’s learned working individually with an engraving specialist. “When the student becomes the teacher, he or she demonstrates that they have truly synergized concepts to the degree that they can learn how to break those ideas down again to make them absorbable to others,” Joan Freedman, director of curriculum, explains. “In the makerspace, where learning involves ideas, protocol, safety and perseverance, education goes far beyond any stated curriculum. It becomes personally meaningful, authentic, one in which a child’s voice is heard.”

Teaching others is just one of the many ways educators assess learning outside of a typical classroom, Freedman says. “When students are in the makerspace, we measure success by the motivation we see through observation, the dialogue in which we engage as students problem-solve, the tools they choose to use, and the eventual output, the product they have made and its aesthetic qualities.”

In the four years since maker education took root at Hillel, educators have seen students unlearn the feeling of “I can’t,” and teachers are unlearning the instinct to “rescue” them. Through the makerspace, students have been challenged to solve real-world problems, such as building a chandelier for a school play, designing an oversized menorah and prototyping products for their version of Shark Tank. They have started to own their learning, and they’ve grown more independent. They’re using electronics, spray paint and software, and evolving into innovators, “learning the resilience that comes from prototypes that fail. They come to realize that there are many possibilities, not just one right answer,” Freedman says.

The social skills students master cannot be discounted, from collaboration to the art of compromise when working as a group. For students who struggle to connect with friends or with a teacher in a typical setting, maker education is a godsend. There, they find a way to bond with others through using their hands or working alongside children of various ages. For some students who prefer solitude to socializing, a morning spent in the makerspace sets the tone for their day.

“Once students establish a routine that helps them succeed, the sky truly is the limit,” Freedman says, whether they pursue STEM fields, Jewish education or entrepreneurship. “What we’ve seen is that maker education produces the outcome we all want for our children—that they graduate with skills, passion and self-confidence, and that they become their best selves.”

Dawn Straith
Deepening Talent
Knowledge Topics
Teaching and Learning