The Makerspaces in Primary School Settings project sought to examine how maker activities using 3D design and 3D printing technology could enhance learning and teaching outcomes. Across the 24 Kindergarten to Year 2 classes that were analysed, students developed a range of 21st century capabilities including creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, inquiry, design thinking, collaboration, autonomy, literacy, numeracy, scientific understanding, digital literacy, communication, reflective learning capabilities and resilience. Analysis of screen recordings for 24 pairs of students revealed substantial levels of design thinking skills, prominently including discovery, interpretation and ideation, but also experimentation and evolution.
Based on screen recordings, teacher journals, teacher questionnaires, student and teacher interviews, and researcher observations, learning and teaching in makerspaces was affected by the balance of explicit instruction to open-ended inquiry, the pedagogical strategies that were used, the types of tasks that were set, the effectiveness of technological resources, the sequencing of tasks, the design of the spaces being used, and students’ background knowledge and collaborative capacities. Each of these factors was observed to support or constrain learning, depending on how they were configured.
Maker activities using 3D technology resulted in very high levels of student engagement, as well as increased levels of student confidence (particularly for less capable students). Off-task behaviour was sometimes observed due to factors such as technology being unavailable, students’ difficulties working productively in groups, and some of the gamified aspects of the software. There was very strong student demand to complete further lessons involving 3D design and printing, with many students expressing a desire to undertake 3D design activities outside school and in their future careers.
Teachers indicated that the well-structured, pedagogically grounded, hands-on and situated professional learning enabled them to develop a better understanding of makerspaces, how to teach in them, the technical skills required, and 21st century capabilities. The professional learning also significantly increased their confidence to teach in makerspaces. Teachers indicated that to develop their capabilities and effectively teach in makerspaces they needed reliable technology, collegial support, teaching resources, appropriate makerspaces, and time to build their capabilities and create lessons. In addition, they felt they were assisted by a school culture supportive of exploration and experimentation.
An unanticipated outcome of the study was the extensive teacher transformation that took place. Several teachers indicated that they had shifted to be more collaborative, flexible, and comfortable with technology. Many teachers entered learning partnerships with students, and as a result, students came to see their teachers as models of life-long learning. Some teachers related how these changes had transcended beyond their makerspaces modules – for instance, in the form of more inquiry-based, problem-based, and collaborative units of work. All 24 teachers expressed a desire to utilise 3D design- based makerspaces in their future classes.
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