Cedar Falls Community School District, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Educators in Cedar Falls, Iowa, think of their makerspaces as student community centers with tools, some of which are pretty high- tech—such as 3D printers, robots, video cameras and manufacturing equipment.
Since 2015, Cedar Falls Community School District has opened Makerspace Labs in five of its nine buildings in an effort to provide deeper, hands-on and self-guided learning for its 5,300-plus students in all grades.
“Students who are using technology are engaged in much higher levels of thinking,” says superintendent Andy Pattee.
The makerspaces are open before, during and after school. All projects require students to use concepts learned in math, science and other core classes. And many of the activities require students to work and do their research in teams, which builds communication skills.
While designing the spaces, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders from each school tested various devices to determine which would enable students to create a wide range of projects and to collaborate electronically (such as by videoconference).
The district also built on its comprehensive professional learning plan to ensure teachers could integrate the technology successfully and continue to guide students. The district provides online professional development that teachers can access at any time and also maintains a Google+ community where educators can share ideas.
Teachers also work together to set learning goals for makerspace activities and to monitor each student’s progress. They step in to provide extra guidance when students struggle.
The district also provides smaller-scale maker kits that educators in kindergarten through grade 12 can check out and use with their classes. And the district shares resources and expertise with the Cedar Valley Makers, an organization that maintains an industrial makerspace in the neighboring city of Waterloo.
Ultimately, Cedars Falls administrators agree they are seeing a higher level of engagement. “The kids get so excited by the end products,” Pattee says. “They can showcase them to friends and family, and through our internet technology can showcase what they’ve made across the world.”
The district intends to open makerspaces in its remaining buildings to create a perpetual learning environment in which innovation and experimentation become an integral part of everyday instruction.