Ten Makerspace Curriculum Wins from 2014-2015

This past year was swamped with curriculum design for four new Makerspace courses. Though there are many aspects in each of the courses that need to be tweaked, some of our projects were immediately and massively successful. For a GCAA Makerspace project to be successful, it should engage students while furthering their understanding of design thinking.

In the spirit of my guiding star for 2015-2016 being #documentation, here are my top ten curricular wins from 2014-2015.

User-testing of a cardboard carnival game!

User-testing of a cardboard carnival game!

1) Caine’s Arcade Unit

Guiding Question:  How might we engage 6th graders in a carnival atmosphere?

Resources: To build empathy we watched Caine’s Arcade, this CBS News clip, and interviewed each other about previous carnival experiences.  7th & 8th grade Makerspace students validated their projects via visiting 6th graders who spent “tokens” for their games and provided feedback on a post-carnival survey.

2) Pixel Press Unit

Guiding Question:  How might we make the most fun game level?

Resources: Lesson plans for a 1-day and 5-day experience can be downloaded here.  Projects were validated by publishing the levels on the Pixel Press Arcade and monitoring the play count.

Testing a prototype of the lost item finder.

Testing a prototype of the lost item finder.

3) Invent It Challenge

Guiding Question:  How might we design a product to solve a personal, school, community, or global challenge?

Resources: Guidelines, PowerPoint slideshows, and submission templates can downloaded here (scroll to the bottom).  Students designed inventions and accompanying presentations to submit to the ePals judges.

4) Shark Tank Challenge

Guiding Question:  How might we convincingly pitch a new product?

Resources: Students proposed designs using this form, then developed their products, and pitched them in a Shark Tank style to the class.  Sharks evaluated pitches using this rubric from Startup Weekend.

5) A Crash Course in Design Thinking

Guiding Question:  How might we improve the gift giving process?

Resources:  This is a tried & true challenge designed by folks at the Stanford d.school.  I use it during the first week as an introduction to the space.  It is documented well here.

S.G. tests her chip package.

S.G. tests her chip package.

6) Chip Challenge

Guiding Question:  How might we efficiently ship a single Pringle chip in the mail?

Resources: These constraints guided our project.  We started building empathy by watching these Journey of a FedEx Package and So You Want to be a Mail Carrier videos.  We then prototyped, tested, and exchanged chips with students at Nipher Middle School in Kirkwood.

7) Scratch Programming

Guiding Question:  How might we use computers to creative?

Resources: This curriculum guided our work.  We started with the Getting Started tutorial, then did the About Me Project and Maze Game before students proposed & created their own project ideas.  Before starting Scratch, Twine served as an effective tool for designing choose-your-own-adventure style games.

8) Thingamabob Challenge

Guiding Question:  How might we use material constraints to enhance creativity?

Resources:  This is an exercise in ideation based of of the Thingamabob show.  Students were given a random item and worked with a partner to generate a list of ten radically different useful devices that could be made with the item.  Students then refined, prototyped, and tested their ideas.

A two motor art bot!

A dual motor art bot!

9) Art Bots

Guiding Question:  How might we autonomously create art?

Resources:  The Tinkering Studio has wonderful documentation for their Scribbling Machines project.

10) Business Design Challenge

Guiding Question:  How might we market a product to GCAA students?

Resources:  Similar to the Shark Tank Project, students proposed designs using this form.  For this project, the constraint was that the user had to be GCAA students.  Students completed an empathy map for a “GCAA student,” proposed products, developed business plans, applied for loans, built their products, and then sold them in our Makerspace store.

2014-2015 Makerspace Wrap Up


On the end-of-year survey, students were asked to list six adjectives to describe Makerspace.

Whew!  It has been another incredible year in the GCAA Makerspace.

Highlights include:
-7th & 8th graders in our Make, Hack, Play class designed games & hosted a Caine’s Arcade-style carnival attended by GCAA 6th graders.
-7th grader James S. designed & presented his game, The Neighborhood Ninja, at the STL Global Game Jam.
-8th grader Renny M. was awarded honorable mention in the Global Spark!Lab Invent It Challenge for her Melt Top invention!
-In May, Makerspace students exhibited over 100 different projects in the first ever GCAA Makerspace Demo Day – which was covered by Alive Magazine.

Caine's Arcade Carnival (Fall 2014)

Caine’s Arcade Carnival (Fall 2014)

By nature of four new courses being piloted in the Makerspace, my primary focus this year was prototyping new curriculum.  Skeleton outlines for each course can be found here, though because design thinking guides all of our work these will definitely be iterated upon for the upcoming year.

As we kickoff 2015-2016 and iterate the Makerspace curricula, my guiding star will be #documentation (HT: Steph Grimes at the Digital Harbor Foundation). There are so many incredible things that happen each day in the GCAA Makerspace, and design quality soars when students have an authentic audience for their work.  Stay tuned for new initiatives in 2015-2016 that will include digital student portfolios, student guest blogs on this site, and a GCAA Maker Faire!

The #MakerEd ecosystem is thriving in St. Louis.  Three years ago, the GCAA Makerspace started as the first school-based Makerspace in St. Louis.  Now there are over twenty-five in the region, with the St. Louis Science Center cutting the ribbon on its Makerspace last week.  The energy here is palpable.  I’d bet that St. Louis has the highest density of #MakerEd facilities in the country.

Click for an interactive map of K12 MakerEd in St. Louis.

Click for an interactive map of K12 MakerEd in St. Louis.  (c/o: Drew McCallister)

It takes a village, and building the GCAA Makerspace has been a team effort.  We’re so fortunate to have amazing support from students, staff, administrators, families, and community members.   To our GCAA families – thank you SO much for keeping our shelves stocked with your perpetual Makerspace Junk care packages delivered to the office almost daily, including invites by Dianne Gray to “shop till we drop” our way through vacated houses full of potential maker supplies.  We’re also grateful for the financial support from The Disruption Department that allowed us to upgrade the space to version 2.0 this past October.  Special thanks to Erich Vieth who two years ago said, “We need to make a video to explain this Makerspace concept to parents better!”  That video now has almost 10,000 views!

Grand Center Arts Academy is a grades 6-12 public charter school open to students throughout St. Louis City & County, and still has openings for 2015-2016.  For application materials or to schedule an arts demonstration call 314-533-1791 or visit our website.

“The Neighborhood Ninja” featured at STL Global Game Jam


Congrats to James for his excellent work on “The Neighborhood Ninja!”

This weekend, GCAA 7th grader & Makerspace Student, James participated in the St. Louis Global Game Jam at UMSL.  249 participants designed a total of 42 games.

The theme, “What do we do now?” was unveiled on Friday evening.  James brainstormed ideas and worked on his game for a total of 26 hours.  He led all aspects of the project, including the game development, programming, and art asset design.

Perhaps more impressive is that at the conclusion of the event, James presented his game in front of a packed UMSL auditorium with over 200 people!


“The Neighborhood Ninja” is a platformer designed in Scratch.

Special thanks to Wes Ehrlichman, Jonathan Leek, UMSL, and the many STL Game Jam volunteers for putting on a great event!

Here’s more info about James’s game: “The Neighborhood Ninja.”

An Amazing Year!

Students were asked to list six adjectives that describe the Makerspace.

Students were asked to list six adjectives that describe the Makerspace.

What an incredible year it has been for the GCAA Makerspace.  Thank you to all of our staff, parents, and community members for your support of this endeavor.  To the over 400 GCAA students who dropped in over 10,000 times to the Makerspace this year – thank you for your leadership, collaboration, and creative confidence.  You have made the Makerspace what it is today.

We had many sponsors this year.  Thank you to supporters who contributed to the Makerspace Grant Program through our GoFundMe site, purchased off of our Amazon Wish List, or helped fund the purchase of our vinyl cutter and tool box via Donorschoose. Thank you also to our sponsors at from Bo Beuckman Ford, Elmer’s, Maritz, the Missouri Environmental Educators Association, Scottrade, and Shearwater Education Foundation.  Also, special thanks to Stanford d.School for the mental model of design thinking which is the root of our work and Pixel Press for partnering with us to help teach students digital design.

Two years ago, the GCAA Makerspace was a pilot program.  It took place in a small office, and was accessible only to 7th graders and only on Fridays.  The total budget for the year was $100.  The success Gregory Hill had with that pilot led to support for this year’s scaled iteration of the Makerspace.

One year ago today, the GCAA Makerspace was a blueprint.  We upgraded to an amazing space adjacent to the library and acquired a plethora of prototyping materials.  It’s been a whirlwind of a year, but we’ve had lots of fun.  In fact, when Makerspace students were asked to list six adjectives that described the Makerspace, “fun”, “creative”, “awesome”, and “cool”  were the most common responses.

Oh . . . and there’s been learning too.  Students have learned design thinking through the tools of 3D modeling, animation, video game design, programming, and circuitry.  They’ve also built grit, measurement skills, project management skills, and writing skills.  Twenty-eight students learned what it is like to be entrenpreneurs as they took their product designs to the open market, applying for a business license, loan, and grant opportunities.  All of these experiences are having an impact on students’ self-perception.  Makerspace students are ending the year seeing themselves as designers and having an enhanced affinity for science, technology, and engineering.  This is great growth from the beginning of the year when a majority of students thought of STEM professionals as white, nerdy-looking, males.

When asked, “What are the three most important things you have learned in Makerspace?” One sixth grader wrote:

“I can do a lot of things that I didn’t know I can do.  Keep on trying and you will achieve.  Never stop making.”

As we venture into year two, we welcome the addition of three electives that will be hosted in the Makerspace.  There will be a 10th & 11th grade “STEAM Innovation Lab,” a 7th & 8th grade “Make, Hack, Play” course (hat tip to Vinnie Vrotny), and a semester long middle school “Design Thinking” class.  We hypothesize that these courses, in addition to the open access time, will help encourage even higher quality designs.

There are lots of other changes and enhancements to the Makerspace in the works.  Stay tuned to this Makerspace blog for news & updates.