Makerspace & Elementary Special Education Curriculum

Recently we highlighted the Makerspace Initiative and how the Watson Institute Friendship Academy has embraced the program, building makerspace into our special education curriculum. This month, we’d like to show you how it’s being implemented in our elementary-aged students’ curriculum!

At Friendship Academy, students with behavioral and emotional challenges in the elementary school level attend class in the Makerspace once a week. Each of the lessons in the Makerspace program focuses on elements in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum.

Every session in the Makerspace special education curriculum becomes a teachable moment for students to learn about various STEAM topics such as robotics or gears. Students are also given the opportunity to practice turn taking and learning how to follow instructions.

For students with emotional and behavioral challenges, learning and demonstrating appropriate behaviors is an important lesson that will prepare them for life outside of the classroom.

Makerspace Curriculum Teaches Teamwork & Creative Problem Solving

The younger elementary students (grades K-3) are currently working on the gear unit as part of the Makerspace school curriculum and the Sciences portion of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). In this unit, they’ve been learning how gears can work and how to build them up so everything is working in harmony.

During a recent Makerspace lesson, Dr. Carla Sproull, a Friendship Academy Makerspace educator, encouraged students to start out by building their own creations using a set of gears. As each student worked through their build and got all of the gears working together, they started to team up with their classmates to make all of their gear pieces fit seamlessly. By the end of the lesson, all of the students in the classroom had assembled their gears into one large creation that was moving together.

Lessons such as teamwork, learning through trial and error, and turn taking are essential elements to the Makerspace special education school curriculum that can be translated across all areas of our students’ lives. These skill sets will be critical to their success after they graduate from Friendship Academy and pursue post-secondary education and employment paths.

Mobile Tech Carts for Makerspace Classroom Learning

Special education teachers at Friendship Academy recognized an opportunity to reinforce the behaviors and skill sets their students were learning in the Makerspace school curriculum by incorporating them into classroom lessons. To aid in this effort, the Makerspace committee started to assemble mobile technology carts which can be used in the classroom.

Each cart contains four STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) lesson plans with instructions for the classroom staff and the necessary materials to complete the project. A few examples of lesson plans include units on weather with activities such as making tornadoes using drink bottles, creating snow in a jar, and a solar s’mores activity.

Dr. Sproull explained that some of the activities focus on building and developing students’ problem solving and social skills. An activity on the mobile tech cart that reinforces this lesson is called the Tower of Commons in which students are grouped in pairs. Each pair is tasked with identifying and writing down on index cards the ways in which they are alike, with the goal being to build the highest tower using only index cards that had commonalities written on them.

At the beginning of the activity, students started with mostly surface-level observations, such as ‘we are both humans’, but as they become more comfortable working with their partner, they began to venture beyond the superficial, expressing commonalities in beliefs, feelings, and shared life experiences.

The objective of the STEAM activities on the mobile tech carts is to help classroom staff and students understand how technology can be integrated into the curriculum in the classroom while also reinforcing what students are learning in the Makerspace.

Currently there are 3 mobile tech carts being utilized by the elementary level classrooms but the goal is to expand their use across all grade levels.

Join us Next Month! 

Next time, Watson will be sharing more about the middle school and high school students’ projects and activities in the Makerspace Education school program.

Learn more about the Watson Institute Friendship Academy, a special education school for children ages 5 to 21 with emotional and behavioral challenges.