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Colaboratory: UNIS

Francesca Zammarano, Junior School Technology Integrator & Jacqueline Jenkins, Junior School Divisional Head, United Nations International School

UNIS is in its first year of having a CoLaboratory, a room which is just that an interactive, colorful and vibrant space.

 Here we allow students to generate and create visible, tangible and exciting products, which they then can share with the wider school community. These projects are often interdisciplinary in nature, which allows for concepts in Math, Social Studies, or Art to be integrated into the final outcome. In sharing these final products an energy and curiosity evolves and the desire to interact with the space grows.

 As students enter the CoLaboratory, they immediately come in contact with tools, similar to those found in childhood shop classes; screwdrivers, safety goggles, cardboard, meter sticks, and a sink. Of course the space is also home to some of our new and exciting technological tools; the 3D printers, robotic kits, iPads and MacBooks. In addition there is an interactive wall covered with buckets and bins, filled with materials just calling out to the children to engage and create.

We have created an environment that mixes high and low technology for the students to use, create, MAKE.

The CoLaboratory is meant to inspire multidisciplinary projects by having full and easy access to storage, project display areas, and different workspaces allowing a variety of activities to take place. In this space we want to provide time for self exploration where ‘whoops’ moments are celebrated and desired in order to foster questions and feedback and most of all sharing.

 All projects are inquiry based and use the design process; from designing a way for a Lego man to get off the roof of a building safely, to creating vibrating bots or marble mazes. Each project starts with a problem, time to brainstorm and design, then a build, test, redesign period before sharing the final outcome.

An example which springs to mind comes from our UNIS 3rd grade class, where students are working on an Action Unit. The enduring understanding of this unit is Human actions impact the earth positively and negatively. Within this unit students are working to define real-world problems and discuss the cause and effect these problems have on other areas or biomes in the world.

 During time in the CoLaboratory, students are asked to design and build a maze using a recycled laptop box. The concept design starts with the isolated problem the child is working on within the unit, this problem is reflected at the start point of the maze and the impact it has on the world is reflected through various obstacles and threats (dead ends) in the maze. In developing their model, the students are reflecting on the enduring understanding while creating/making something tangible to reflect their learning. After the maze is done, they will need to make a small circuit using conductive copper tape, coin operated batteries and LED’s that will light up when the ‘marble’ reaches the end. The process of designing, problem solving, painting, questioning, cutting, pasting and presenting their final product makes this project engaging and relevant for the child.

I feel that UNIS is unique in that it provides scheduled time for grade levels to meet, collaborate and develop maker projects that are connected to the core curriculum.

I am interested in being part of the conversation that asks: what is the impact on learning from projects made in makerspaces? What is the prior knowledge that should come to a particular maker project, if any? How can we assess student work and do we want to? What are the take-always and reflections / wonderings that can be shared by the students? Can our students learn to see themselves as “experience creators” ready for the technological world around them in order to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills?