This project investigated what impact different settings (structured vs unstructured) have on the engagement and the learning attitude of young children in a makerspace using a longitudinal approach (multiple visits in a makerspace of the same children).
More specifically we offered children two alternative settings:
a structured school-like setting. In this the facilitator directs the children through a game or a story in which there is an explicitly declared goal to be achieved. These take the form of specific activities which have to be followed in a rather strict logical sequence.
an unstructured makerspace-like setting. In this space children can freely perform the same activities but on their own initiative with guidance provided only on request.
We wanted to see how children of this age choose one or the other of these settings and how and why they migrate from one to the other.
Professionals from Hatch Atelier makerspace worked alongside academics from the Institute of Sociology in providing three series of five workshops for children (6–8 years old). The project involved the usage of different tools and activities to be found in a makerspace including creation of 3D printed objects, playing and constructing modular robots (MOSS robotics) and games (Scratch, Kerbal Space Program1, Universe Sandbox2) as a support for learning.
The project offered an insight on how young children actually engage in such space and explored the challenges that professionals of these spaces face when working with this age group.
Aims of project
Through the involvement of children 6–8 years old in makerspace-type of workshops focusing on the idea of space exploration (Space Academy), the project aimed to:
Introduce children to STEM subjects (space, robots).
Develop children’s digital skills (by using video games, by using digital devices to document their projects or for online searching and communicating).
Develop children’s communication skills (children are encouraged to report on and present their work not to the facilitators, but to colleagues that play the role of ‘reporters’).
How do children with various socioeconomic background engage with digital, traditional and mixed technologies in a makerspace-setting?
How do girls and boys approach digital (in-game or with robots) creation v. traditional creation (arts and crafts)?
How does a long term engagement in a makerspace-setting influence children’s interests and literacy in digital technologies?
The Romanian team planned to provide three series of workshops (each around nine meetings) in three schools, with groups of children with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Each group was planned to consist of 10 children 6–8 years-old. The venue of the workshops was planned to be in schools (all of them in Bucharest), in a mobile popup makerspace setting.
The participant schools and the schedule of the workshops
Pilot study at Ferdinand School: a series of six meetings, first three weeks of October 2017.
Romanian-Finnish School (private school) in October–November 2017, 12 workshops.
School No. 136 – in partnership with The Alternative Education Club – in February 2018 (nine workshops).
Ferdinand School, March 2018, seven workshops.
The workshops took place three times a week, for 2–3 hours each session.
Differences among the three groups workshops
In the first group, the workshops lasted the longest (around three and a half hours each), whereas in the other schools they were of a duration of around two hours.
The meal arrangements differed in each setting (the private school offering a snack to the children in the middle of the workshop).
The main series of the Ferdinand School took place in the ICT room, all children having access to a computer if they would like (this setting differed from the other two series, where only three laptops were available for children).
The workshops of the second group were the only ones where educators or school staff were present in the classroom during the activities. At the School 136, a carer from the Alternative Education Club was present most of the time in the classroom. She did not get involved in the activities, but helped maintain the discipline.
The technology used and the activities
KerbalEdu (Kerbal Space Program) is a space flight simulator that allows users to build their own rocket and launch it. The rocket is built using a variety of elements that are realistically designed and proportionate. The game perfectly simulated the laws of physics. We considered it for introducing children to physics, technology, and engineering.
Universe Sandbox isa videogame that allows them to simulate the creation of a universe by adding various types of planets, stars, black holes and seeing their interaction. This was used only with the first group. Within the last group children also played Minecraft (as unplanned activities, using their own Minecraft accounts) and Reddit (their favourite).
Cubelets modular robots. This used three types of cubes (sensing, acting and programmable blocks) and brick adapters to link the robots with Lego blocks. The Cubelets were considered as a good introduction in robotics challenge (basic I/O). During the workshops we didn’t use the programmable affordances.
Arts and craft (plasticine, drawing, beads).
Digital cameras were provided to children in order for them to document their activities and communicate throughout it.