Making MAKING Happen Through Maker VISTA
Our Maker VISTA program focuses on overcoming poverty through maker education. Maker VISTA members serve at partner sites around the country to impact organizations and the wider community through partnership development, volunteer recruitment, community building, resource creation, educator training, and much more.
At Bethune Middle School, Maker VISTAs Shelly Tersolo and Corina Penaia witnessed the culmination of several ongoing projects at their site, the first and most important being the USC MESA competition. After spending all year working with 10 different MESA classes, assisting teachers and students in class and during lunch periods, Bethune sent 60 students to compete in challenges such as building mousetrap cars, building egg-drop containers, and designing popsicle stick bridges. One of their student teams placed first in the egg-drop challenge. Seeing their students compete at USC was a very proud moment for Shelly and Corina, as it was the realization of two semesters of hard work and creative collaboration.
Shelly and Corina also supported their Girls Build LA student team of 10 girls in rolling out their Health & Wellness programming, after devoting most of the year to planning, researching, and creative problem-solving related to sources of student stress at Bethune Middle School. In March, the team distributed surveys and collected data from their peers concerning their primary sources of stress. In April, the team finalized their plans to conduct stress-relieving activities during lunch periods and after school. Seeing their team of 10 girls come together to support each other and work together to address serious problems facing their peers was a powerful moment of inspiration for the VISTA team.
In Roseville, CA, Maker VISTA Shubha Arehalli supported the test launch of ReCreate’s Renewable Energy Maker Program, which reached over 270 students. In the course of this project, Shubha worked with all of the 7th grade students at Eich Middle School to build devices that harness renewable energy. They then recorded data and used it to come up with ideas for how to improve the efficiency of their designs. This was a challenging activity to execute since the ReCreate had to ensure that they had enough materials for 10 classes and effective enough collaboration to coordinate three activities occurring simultaneously across a single class period. Shubha also ably documented troubleshooting efforts and challenges throughout, which will help ReCreate work through solutions for future programs.
Shubha also helped ReCreate launch the first of their pop-up makerspace days in North Highlands at Creative Connections. The ReCreate team brought out 5 activities for students at Creative Connections Arts Academy to try, including Makey Makey, Squishy Circuits, and Stop Motion Animations. Many of the students told Shubha that they had the opportunity to try something they had never tried before. A moment that really inspired Shubha was when a student described a doodling machine that she created. According to Shubha, “she spoke with so much pride about her creation. Many of the students came into our pop-up makerspace bored and impatient, and left engaged and enthusiastic. As a VISTA you rarely get the chance to see the direct impact of the work you do, so this was an awesome reminder to me of why I serve.”
In Los Angeles, Maker VISTA Lyna Abal created the school’s first ever Earth Day Family Maker Night. Family nights in San Fernando Middle School provide a great opportunity to build relationships for a stronger school culture, and since all the 6th grade students are currently engaged in a vertical garden project, a connection to Earth Day seemed fruitful. Lyna had the idea of then taking the tie-in one step further and re-purposing making materials for the event out of recycled water bottles. With the help of two teachers, she pitched the maker aspect of the night to the administration and successful got approval to launch it.
Lyna describes how those 6th grade vertical gardens prompted an opportunity to work through miscommunication:
There was one group was struggling to work together because of miscommunication around sharing of ideas. They were ready to give up on their initial very cool idea because their design wasn’t coming out the way they had planned. I didn’t want them to give up on their idea, so I asked them what they had designed and how they wanted it to function. After conversation, they finally came up with a way to make their design work the way they wanted, with changes to their original design still something they were eager to call their own.”
In Charlottesville, VA, Maker VISTA Blair McAvoy facilitated an Arduino workshop for C4K’s mentor program. As research, Blair worked with two mentors who were already familiar with Arduinos and designed a compelling workshop from scratch. While she was prepping for the Arduino workshop, a youth member came over and asked what she was working on. She told him what she was doing, and he immediately asked, “That’s cool! Can you help me make something with one?” Blair reflected that often the Arduinos sit on a shelf because students can be intimidated by them. For this student, though, just seeing someone he knows using them was all it took to prompt him to jump in.
Blair also engaged in a maker project to develop the audio studio at C4K. “This month I worked with a bunch of members on a light-up sign that says “RECORDING” for people to use when they are in the audio studio and don’t want to be disturbed. We wanted to make it so that there could be a switch on the inside of the room, but the sign would be outside over the door. We ended up having to just insert a switch into the middle of the power cord and run it along the wall. This project was challenging because we had to figure out how to design the box so that it only let out light where we wanted it to and also figure out how to insert a switch into the middle of a regular power cord.”
Grass Valley Maker VISTAs Crystal Le and Maria Renteria facilitated back-to-back Weeks of Making, guiding 8 different classes through maker curriculum. This required a great deal of collaboration, communication, and time management on the part of the Maker VISTA team and each cohorts’ teachers. One unit Maria and Crystal highlighted was a cooking unit, with an exciting Project Expo. The event was attended by many parents and other community members, and showcased the students’ various approaches to the question: “How can we, as food scientists, investigate ways to interact with food?” Classes shared their healthy recipes, smoothie-making demos, edible slime, and 3D digestive systems.
Crystal and Maria were also proud of the strides their second making cohort made as they approached their unit question, “How can we, as a theatrical production team, create and produce a performance based on a literary work for the whole school?” The Maker VISTA team supported these students in the creation of the scripts, backdrops, props, and costumes, as well as the recording of their performances. Despite a number of setbacks such as limited materials for backdrops, they were thrilled with the students’ resourcefulness and their vibrant end results.
Maker VISTA Sam Erwin launched Maker Ed’s first-ever Maker VISTA Month this April, with prep and planning around content for blog posts, emails, keenly crafted tweets, and visuals having taken place over the past few months. Read some of his contributions—highlighting the impact of his peers along with his own motivations for serving—here.
This past month, Sam Erwin also participated in a Young Makers workshop in San Francisco that was facilitated by Maker Ed’s Director of Programs, Stephanie Chang. As the Maker Ed in-house VISTA, Sam really valued the opportunity to get more hands-on with maker centered-learning at the workshop than he is typically able to in his day-to-day projects. Maker VISTA member Lyna Abal, serving at San Fernando Middle School, and Maker VISTA leader Hadiyah Shabazz were also in attendance, providing a unique chance to make alongside his peers. Unpacking maker activities in this way during the workshop allowed him to consider barriers and challenges, for both students and teachers, in a new, insightful light.
In East Palo Alto, Maker VISTA Jenn Torres led two professional development sessions for the Ravenswood Makerspace Collaborative team. On both occasions, Jenn worked with tinkerers to coordinate and plan learning opportunities for the RMC team. For the first PD, the team dedicated an entire afternoon to a single space and with function, form, and student engagement in mind, applied design thinking practices to brainstorm ways to improve the space. This then opened up an opportunity to express unique needs and challenges they face in the respective makerspaces they run. For the second PD, Jenn and an RMC tinkerer invited a teacher to the tinker team meeting to explain how to serve students with intellectual and learning disabilities, connecting the team with that teacher’s vital on-the-ground perspective.
Meanwhile Maker VISTA Becca Hoskins continues to think about ways to recruit, utilize, and integrate volunteers into RMC’s volunteer program. One task that Becca’s volunteer team took on was the inventorying of the STEM Materials Center. A 60-hour job was divided by six people, and the volunteers impressed Jenn and Becca with their knowledge of robotics and how that robotics equipment might best be used in a classroom environment.
At Art 120 in Chattanooga, Maker VISTA Hannah Hahn implemented a mini-unit for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center’s Hamilton County Art Contest. In the mini-unit, students from Red Bank Elementary and the Howard School created abstract collages in response to Bessie Smith’s music. This was a powerful experience for Hannah, who felt inspired by the students’ artwork and their infectious enthusiasm. At the end of the art session, a student from Red Bank won first place in the K-3rd grade category, and a Howard student won second place in the 9th-12th grade category. Hannah is pleased that the students were empowered to think of themselves as artists who can create beautiful and thought-provoking pieces. The students’ work will be on display at the Cultural Center, beginning on April 25th, for the students, their families, friends, and teachers.
Meanwhile, Maker VISTA Dan Mailman is implementing and facilitating computer science programming at ChattLab Makerspace. He feels especially proud of a younger student who is progressing rapidly through Dan’s multiple coding course series based on the Raspberry Python Language.
In Oakland, Maker VISTA Gary Hall helped to facilitate another Creativity Lab parent workshop in his ongoing series. This time parents practiced designing and working creatively with fabric squares, googly eyes, shiny objects, and other craft materials. This event allowed parents to experience the learning their children experience on a weekly basis, building a bridge for community buy-in. Gary also wrote a blog post about this experience, which you can find here.
Meanwhile, Maker VISTA Tobie Irvine helped the 1st grade teachers at Lighthouse finish manufacturing “Lightplay” materials. These materials, Lightboxes and Lightplay LEDS, were essential to a pilot project, involving students exploring the nature of light and shadow. The 1st graders then used the Lightplay boxes and what they learned to conduct a puppet show for the school’s kindergartners. Students used books that they had read and props that they had made to develop the show. It was exciting to see how a project that was framed as a jumping off point to explore the nature of light could also be used to help get kids excited about storytelling.
In Atlanta, Maker VISTAs Greg Robbins and Caitlan Cole spent the past month coordinating two dynamite events, in DESIGNORMA and STEAM Day. Read all about the incredible work of these two Maker VISTAs in VISTA Leader Hadiyah Shabazz’s blog post here. Maker VISTA Greg Robbins reflects on the experience:
To see all of the volunteers, vendors, etc, coming together as we intended them to (interacting with the attendees—and a large amount of attendees at that) was very rewarding. It inspires me to see that as VISTAs, we are here really to set others up for success. We worked hard on the front end so that basically a bunch of other people could lead or engage in the event themselves, and it is particularly inspiring how successful it felt to do that.”
With event planning briefly behind them, Greg also fully setup the 3D printers at the high school campus and began training teachers in 3D printing, while Caitlan began an overhaul of the elementary school’s inventory system.
Maker Moments is a monthly series that profiles the achievements and capacity-building work of our Maker VISTA team. Check back next month for meritorious moments in making!