FAIRBANKS — Four days before the end of fall semester, Tanana Middle School student David Tessier was folding paper stars in the school library. Offering origami as a makerspace activity was Tessier’s idea.
“It’s relaxing,” Tessier said. “I like folding stuff, and I made a bunch. I’ve made so many I don’t need the instructions.”
At another table, students were cutting out snowflakes, experimenting with folds and shapes.
“Normally, in the library, you are only supposed to come and read. I just like being able to do stuff with my hands a lot more,” said Kendall Swart, who was building with City Blocks. “The first makerspace I did was the Snap Circuits, which is basically just playing with electrical currents. I was pretty good at that. I’ve done the whiteboard table and then I started doing this.”
Makerspaces are becoming more common in Fairbanks North Star Borough School District schools, but it may be an unfamiliar term for some parents. Often in the libraries, materials and instructions are offered to students. Collaboration, creativity, experimentation and hands-on learning are emphasized. Some activities are unstructured students experience trial and error in the process.
“We are here to learn and create,” Tanana librarian Tana Martin said about the makerspaces she offers. “I think it gives kids an opportunity to learn in a different way. It’s fun learning. I think teachers like it because they know that kids aren’t going to just come down here and sit on their phones and play games.”
At Tanana, makerspaces are available throughout the day and students who finish up classroom work earlier than their peers can go to the library. The activities are also available during the lunch hour. At North Pole Middle School, makerspaces are scheduled during lunch time and offered monthly.
“Libraries in particular have adopted the trend of trying to offer opportunities for students that they might not experience during the school day,” said Deborah Tice, librarian at North Pole Middle School. “We enjoy watching kids come in who would not normally come to the library. And then you build this connection with students that you wouldn’t normally build.”
Activities offered as makerspaces at both schools have ranged from high tech, such as coding with robots and app building, to low tech like knitting, puppet making and decorating cookies.
“My whole educational career, I have never been focused on the end product, for me it’s always been about the process,” Tice said. “What did you learn, how did you figure things out.”
North Pole Middle School has incorporated a service learning component into some of their activities. Students created cards for deployed soldiers and residents of a nearby senior housing center. They also made Christmas ornaments for the elders at their Native Heritage Celebration.
“What I think is appealing is there is such a wide variety, and I think it’s also something different than their norm for their day,” Tice said. “They look for those opportunities to be together and in a different space. It’s fun to see kids teach each other.”
Tanana offers some permanent makerspaces including a chalkboard wall, a whiteboard table, a peg board, as well as board games and puzzles. Martin also draws inspiration for her rotating makerspaces from the accumulated supplies in her back cabinet.
“I really try to make it open, guided, but open. It’s funny what they like to do that I would have never imagined,” Martin said.
“A substitute was in here and said, this is a soft place for kids to land. And I was so complimented because that’s what I try to be,” Martin said. “I’m not in the classroom, I don’t teach as much, but I get to see the a-ha moments. It’s worth the effort, it’s what I wanted it to be.”
Sharice Walker is public relations director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.