This project will investigate 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, offering children the alternative of a structured school-like setting (the facilitator directing the children through a game or a story in which there is an explicitly declared goal, that is to be achieved by specific activities that have to be followed in a rather strict logical sequence) and an unstructured makerspace-like setting in which children can freely perform the same activities but on their own initiative with guidance provided only on request, we want to see how children of this age choose one or the other of these settings and how and why they migrate from one to another, if it is the case.

Professionals from Hatch Atelier makerspace will work alongside academics from the Institute of Sociology in providing three series of 5 workshops for children (6-8 years old). The project will involve 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 Program, Universe Sandbox ²) as a support for learning.

The project will offer an insight on how young children actually engage in such space and what are the challenges that professionals of these spaces face when working with this age group.

Progress

Aims of project:

Through the involvement of children 6 to 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, etc.);
  • 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’).

Research questions:

  • 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?

General design:

The Romanian team planned to provide three series of workshops (each around 9 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:

  1. Pilot study: at Ferdinand School; a series of 6 meeting, first 3 weeks of October 2017.
  2. Romanian-Finnish School (private school) in October – November 2017; 12 workshops;
  3. School No. 136 – in partnership with The Alternative Education Club – in February 2018 (9 workshops);
  4. Ferdinand School, March 2018, 7 workshops.

The workshops took place three times/ week, for 2-3 hour each session.

Differences among the three groups workshops:

  • In the first group, the workshops lasted the longest (around 3 and a half hours each), whereas in the other schools they were of a duration of around 2 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 ICT room, all children having access to a computer if they would like (this setting differed from the other two series, where only 3 laptops were available for children).
  • Except for the workshops of the second group, in the other series there weren’t any educators or school staff 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:

  • Video games: (1) KerbalEdu (Kerbal Space Program) is a space flight simulator that allows users to build their own rocket (using a variety of elements that are realistically designed and proportionate) and launch it. The game perfectly simulated the laws of physics. We considered it for introducing children to physics, technology, and engineering. (2) Universe Sandbox (a videogame that allows them to simulate the creation of a universe by adding various types of planets, stars, black holes and seeing their interaction) 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 favorite).
  • Cubelets modular robots: with 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.
  • 3D Drawing
  • Arts and craft (plasticine, drawing, beads)
  • Digital cameras were provided to children in order for them to document their activities and communicate throughout it.

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