James Baldes works on a radio in a makerspace deconstruction area where students learn to take apart objects.

James Baldes works on a radio in a makerspace deconstruction area where students learn to take apart objects.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Burr teacher pieces together makerspace as passion project

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 4, 2019

 Burr Elementary School media center teacher Helena Foust-Mantel holds a drone with sixth graders Ava Mortimore and James Baldes.

Burr Elementary School media center teacher Helena Foust-Mantel holds a drone with sixth graders Ava Mortimore and James Baldes.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Burr Elementary School sixth grader James Baldes recalls the excitement of using his school’s media center makerspace for a school assignment. The assignment taught him how a computer’s internal parts work.

“Taking apart the stuff, learning about what’s inside of a PC, putting the stuff back together, learning all the different components — it was fun,” he said.

Now that classes are back in session, some elementary students are experimenting with makerspaces, according to Utica Community Schools officials.  

Makerspaces are learning areas full of equipment that let students work with their hands and make projects within the realms of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. UCS officials say examples of such projects include plastic bottle rockets, Lego creations and circuit boards.

According to UCS officials, makerspaces exist at Burr, Morgan and Ebeling elementary schools. Burr media center teacher Helena Foust-Mantel is forging her own trail to make it easier for her students to tinker with technology.

Foust-Mantel said this is Burr’s third or fourth year of having a makerspace. She said she has kept current with tech trends by attending two summer boot camps, and she currently is a Classroom Maker Ambassador through the Regional Educational Media Center Association of Michigan.

“The goal is to get (students) thinking to be creative,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that are prescribed in their lives, so this gives an opportunity to create and be creative. It’s hands-on, and we’re making instead of consuming technology.”

Foust-Mantel said the makerspace lets students in kindergarten through grade six work on simple, age-appropriate creation and deconstruction projects.

“A lot of our kids don’t have much exposure to the 3D printing and other things,” she said. “Some of it is new to them, but it’s open-ended, and I try to let them direct as much as I can. We’re doing so many different kind of things.”

Sometimes students take old machines apart “to see what’s in there,” Foust-Mantel said. Other times, lessons may incorporate drones, 3D printing, 3D pens that work like hot glue guns but emit plastic, or micro:bit minicomputers. The makerspace area now also has a Padcaster video production kit, she said.

“We got a green screen recently,” she added.

Burr sixth grader Ava Mortimore said she likes experimenting with the micro:bit, which is similar to a Raspberry Pi, a small computer that plugs into a monitor or TV and enables people to explore computing and to learn programming.

“It really showed that if you can figure out one thing, you can figure out a lot of things. You had to figure it out on your own,” Mortimore said.

“You could make it light up in certain patterns. You could write out a letter or write out a number. You can put (the computer) into these bots, and they tell them how to act with the bot. You could make it go forwards, backwards, spin around, almost anything.”

Foust-Mantel said Burr’s makerspace materials were made possible through personal contributions and online crowdfunding.

“Everything in my makerspace has been things that I bought or my family has donated. I’ve used Donorschoose.org,” she said. “Everything in the makerspace has been procured in creative ways.”

Foust-Mantel said she sees plenty of potential for makerspaces to grow as funds become available. However, she said she has to balance the makerspace with other priorities as a media center teacher, including checking out books and teaching computer coding.

“My biggest enemy is time,” she said.

Find out more about Burr Elementary School in Sterling Heights by visiting burr.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-4100.

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