Building Skills, Confidence & Entrepreneurs in “We Can” MakerSpace

“Dream big!” says the Capitol Area United Way.

At 8am Monday, April 11 voting begins at capareaunitedway.org for the “United We Can” grant opportunity. The SD Discovery Center hopes you will vote for the “We Can” Makerspace. The Pierre Area can be the first in South Dakota to offer a public makerspace where kids and families can build, create and invent together.

Envision a child who has just walked into grandparents’ barn or the family garage or even a parent’s workplace and told, “This is your place. These are your tools. Let’s see what you can do!” Imagine the joy in that child’s heart; the feeling of empowerment; the thrill of “what can be!”

The “We Can” MakerSpace will be that place. A place that enables kids to build their ideas with real tools and materials. It will be a workshop that inspires and empowers kids to think, design, experiment and create. Interwoven with everything we do is a system of honoring kids’ own creativity and trusting their abilities. Kids who are confident in their own abilities are capable of learning and doing anything!

This space will be a workshop within the SD Discovery Center that will include workbenches, woodworking and other expected tools and materials (many recycled). Additionally, technological resources and software such as a 3-D printer, video game programming software, electronics and robotics materials will be available. The space will feature a set of challenges that kids can work to meet, but will also be available for them to create their own challenges.

The guiding values of the “We Can” Makerspace will be modeled after those that have been successful for the highly-regarded MakerKids program in Toronto, CA. These values are: ownership, learning how to learn, being open to challenges, community, and celebrating differences.

  1. Ownership. All users will have responsibility for their own project, learning and the community space. They will be trained and will be expected to help maintain the space, the rules, and the safety of the makerspace. A kidvisory board will help establish the challenges and expectations. Responsibility + trust = empowerment.
  2. Learning How to Learn. Within “We Can” MakerSpace, kids can learn to make their ideas come to life. They accept a proposed challenge or conceptualize a solution to a problem then proceed to create a working product. The learning and teaching is child-centered, project-based and interest-driven. Emphasis is on the process, planning, and identifying the materials, knowledge and skills they need and where to look for answers. Mentors, adults and teens, will serve as sounding boards, introduce kids to resources and provide training in resource use.
  3. Be Open to Challenges. “A person who has never failed has never tried anything new.” This quote from Albert Einstein is lit up for all to read within the Fabrik Creativity Workshop (a makerspace) at the Montreal Science Center. It is discussed often as kids work in the space. A makerspace is designed to create opportunities for failure, to identify problems, to experiment, to create solutions, and to try again. It inspires reasons to try new and challenging tools. Opportunity to experiment and try again is constantly present. It builds persistence, resilience, resolve, bravery and confidence.
  4. Community. “We Can” will not just be the title of this makerspace. It will be a motto and a “way of doing business.” The entire international Maker Movement is built upon showing what you have done and sharing with others how you did it. Even more so, when you are struggling for a solution, the Maker community is there at a keystroke to brainstorm or share experiences, resources or strategies. In the “We Can” space, kids can make friends and build social/teamwork skills. They can learn together and learn from each other. Kids working side by side can share their process, challenges and what they have learned.
  5. Celebrate Differences. This will be a safe space where differences, and even not knowing things, are viewed as a opportunities. Not knowing something will just be the next opportunity to learn and practice something new. We all have things to learn from each other, no one, not even the adults/leaders will be experts in everything. Kids will learn to listen to others and value their knowledge, skills and perspectives. The space will include a sharing area where young makers will display their work and check out the work of others. Here they can understand that there are more ways than one to meet a challenge. In investigating the strategies of others they will be building their higher order thinking skills; analysis, synthesis and evaluation. And, they are doing this not because they are told to, but because they need to and want to in order to accomplish a task of their own.

Beyond the creation of the “We Can” MakerSpace, this project includes training SDDC staff and volunteers to offer programs and camps that will help kids develop the skills they want have to be able to be the makers, creators, inventors that they want to become. Programs might include: video game programming with Scratch, sewing wearable electronics, woodworking basics, or toy hacking (making things out of old toys). At each maker program the participants will:

  1.  Make friends with like-minded kids.
  2. Learn 21st century skills – skills needed for people to succeed in the information age.
  3. Learn technical skills.
  4. Make something awesome.

Educator training will be a part of the “We Can” MakerSpace project. The SD Discovery Center staff will be trained by national leaders to help South Dakota teachers and afterschool educators implement best practices in science and engineering education to their classrooms.

Need for Making in the US and SD.

Poor academic achievement in the STEM subjects has significant ramifications for the US economy. More than ever, employers are demanding workers with substantial math and science skills. According to a recent poll of U.S. CEOs, employers will need 1.6 million new STEM employees by 2019. The growing demand for such workers is good news for them and for the economy, as these jobs pay well. In 2013, the average STEM occupation paid about $80,000 annually. That’s roughly 1.7 times the average yearly U.S. wage.

If STEM education were improved, American students could fill these jobs and jumpstart our economy. In fact, if America’s performance in math and science simply matched the average for 33 other developed nations, GDP would increase by an additional 1.7 percent by 2050.

To capture that growth, the United States needs to rethink not just how it teaches STEM. The Next Generation Science Standards recently published by the National Academies Press make explicit calls for computer science, engineering, and tinkering to be a part of every child’s education.

This “We Can” MakerSpace can provide a giant leap for South Dakota, especially central South Dakota, in engaging students during school, afterschool, and leisure time, in meaningful and proven STEM activities that will put them ahead of others in achievement and skills that can help them set and achieve their STEM pursuits. This can only be beneficial for our local economic future.

Additionally, SDDC serves a role as a visitor attraction. There is no other makerspace for children and families in South Dakota. Word will spread of this unique opportunity. It will bring school groups, scout troops, and families to spend their visitor dollars in our community.

Teen volunteers will be a key feature of the “We Can” MakerSpace. As with past SDDC teen internship opportunities, we will see teens build their skills, grow their self-confidence and become leaders in ways they might not have without such an experience. We see students involved in these activities become more involved in their communities and better define their life goals.

Over 30,000 guests visit the SD Discovery Center annually. Nearly 20,000 more participant in hands-on programs. A significant percentage of these program participants are from underserved audiences (low-income, minority and girls). We expect that not only with these numbers increase, but the quality of the opportunities for these students and the affect our programming has on them will change in very positive ways.

Over 150 educators participate in SDDC professional development annually. What they learn is used in classrooms and afterschool programs with thousands of children. This project will allow us to reach more educators and help them implement the Next Generation Science Standards in ways that affect their many students both in achievement and interest in STEM pursuits.
United Way Mission Met through “We Can” Makerspace
“I can!”

If, as a parent, I only teach my child one thought or one phrase in his/her entire life, “I can.” would be it. I can do it. I can achieve. I can figure it out. I can endure. I can overcome. I can help. I can do it by myself. I can do it with my team. I want my kid, every kid, to be confident in the fact that he or she is capable to make his/her way through every challenge, small or large, that comes his/her way.

How did each of us learn to tackle the challenges that come our way? How did we develop the confidence to try to solve problems? I think we did it bit by bit; achieving a small success that made the next challenge seem a bit more possible. I think we did it because we had to. We didn’t have a choice so we tried it, and, by gosh, we did it. We might have even surprised ourselves with our success, but that was enough encouragement build us up to tackle the next challenge. Through our life’s series of challenges and successes, we have built up the knowledge, skills and confidences that have prepared us to look forward to some challenges, even look for new challenges, and to take a deep breath, summon what bravery we have and find our way through challenges that we would rather avoid.

United Way is committed to nurturing children and youth. So is the SD Discovery Center. With science, math, technology and engineering at the core, SD Discovery Center can help children learn to say, “I can.” Kids (and the adults they become) who think “I can.” are people who will navigate their way into a life in which they are self-sufficient, that has a measure of quality of life that they enjoy and allows them to develop skills and talents that they can use to contribute to society. Kids who think “I can.” become adults who are resilient, able to make their way through struggles and come out the better for it. Kids who think “I can.” will become the adults who see the struggles of others and find ways to help them. If you think of the work that all of the United Way agencies do, so many of their workloads would be lighter, if we only could provide our children with early experiences that helped them build their confidence, their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, their ability to communicate and, in the end, their ability to say (and believe), “I can.”

*The photos enclosed are samples from the “Fabrik” Makerspace in the Montreal Science Center.