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Makerspaces go digital: 6 options for the blended classroom

Makerspaces are a wonderfully interactive, highly creative and increasingly valued part of classrooms in the technology age. There is literally a wealth of inspiration, guidance and ideas on the web from how to start a makerspace, to complex long-term project ideas and everything in between.

What makes Makerspaces so attractive is that they are accompanied by images of students getting “their hands dirty”, experimenting and tinkering in the real world, and getting out from behind the screen. Not wanting to be a complete killjoy, I must however point out that many, many Makerspace projects exist and are conducted in blended learning environments using digital tools.

Makerspaces go digital

I thought we could explore some of the Makerspaces and tools that are blending online and physical environments.

  1. LEGO: Mindstorms

    Not known to be the most affordable of maker tools, nonetheless Lego has hit its stride in turns of developing a full suite of programmable robots and robotic components based on their ever-famous bricks. The products test and develop a student’s programming, digital literacy, as well as mechanical, know-how. The Mindstorms product is designed for 11+ aged students, and their WeDo 2.0 suite of products are design for students aged 6-11 years old.

    Read more: 4 Modern literacies students need to learn in school

  2. Bloxels

    This is a great way tactile design becomes a digital product. Students use an actual board and color-coded blocks to create characters, scenes and stories that are then transferred to a tablet, where they become an actual video game. Bloxels values and inspires storytelling, and has the added advantage of becoming a shareable, interactive game that students can tinker with as an ongoing expression of who they are and their lives. View an introductory tutorial on how it works here.

    Read more: 5 Ways to use digital storytelling in class

  3. Raspberry Pi

    One of the most popular ways Makerspace teachers are dabbling in coding and allowing for “digital” making. Raspberry Pi is a UK-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping anyone learn to code, and have fun doing it. They provide a low-cost single circuit computer (the size of a credit card) along with a host of project resources, educator training and clubs. The foundation’s latest device, the wireless-enabled Raspberry Pi Zero W, costs a mere $10.

  4. Everything Machine

    This is a mobile app that mimics real world mechanics in a child-friendly environment. Children can select, drag and drop various components to then create machines from a pre-designed pattern in the app, or go from scratch and design something completely new.

    Read more: Top 7 education apps for the classroom

  5. MaKey MaKey

    This is an invention kit that is, like Lego, on the pricier end of the scale at $50, but is recognized for its ability to turn everyday objects into keyboards or joysticks. Makey Makey is really a simple circuit board that connects to a computer via a USB cable. Combined with coding programs like Scratch Makey Makey has generated a wealth of online lesson plans and maker projects where teachers are enhancing the learning experiences in their classroom.

  6. Backyard Engineers

    This is another mobile learning app that integrates mechanics, design and physics for a fun yet educational tour of how catapults are designed and work. Aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science standards, students face increasingly tricky challenges in the objective of throwing water balloons over a fence, and wetting their neighbors. By customizing different mechanical elements of the catapult, students can manipulate movement, accuracy, range, and damage to drench even the most evasive of targets.

Closing thoughts

I think it’s a wonderful testament to the range, diversity and creativity of digital education that online programs are now dovetailing with physical makerspaces, to mirror real-life invention spaces where mechanics, technology and digital tools are blended to advance innovation and problem-solving.

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