You only need to walk through the doors of the UNCG School of Education’s SELF Design Studio Makerspace to know innovative things are happening there.
Newly created robots of various shapes and sizes line the walls. Drawings with spinning flowers, historical story boxes and “augmented reality” postcards occupy shelves. Hanging on the back of a chair is a talking sports coat. Here, in the SELF studio, in-service and pre-service teachers learn to use a variety of emerging technologies and tools including 3D printers, microcomputers, robotics and circuitry kits, as well as traditional art supplies.
Makerspaces are a growing part of school environments, and the UNCG School of Education is ahead of the curve with the SELF Design Studio (SDS). It has been in operation for more than five years and is always moving forward with new ideas and contributions to educational environments.
“We figure out how to use technology in the classroom and use it in practical and meaningful ways,” said SDS Assistant Director Matt Fisher. “Someone has an idea, and we make it once, and then we figure out how to make it better.”
Each semester, several UNCG students serve as “makers in residence.” During their weekly volunteer hours, they learn to use a variety of makerspace tools and mentor other pre-service teachers.
The Spartans who develop their skills at the SELF studio expand “maker” culture throughout local schools as they move into teaching internships. Through the Transforming Teaching Through Technology (T4) grant, UNCG has installed makerspaces in four elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school in Guilford and Forsyth Counties. The newest will be at the Moss Street Partnership School, opening in August 2018.
SDS makers and faculty advisors ensure that creation and exploration continue through an ever-expanding variety of mediums. One day, UNCG pre-service teachers may be helping elementary school students write non-linear stories with technological enhancements and the next day, taking them on adventures via virtual reality technology ‒ to coral reef ecosystems, the International Space Station, inside a human heart or to the Great Wall of China.
The SELF Design Studio is also an integral part of UNCG’s annual Science Everywhere festival. The 2018 festival drew more than 4,000 kids to campus to participate in hands-on learning projects in many different locations.
But that’s not all; SDS is the host of the Writing and Robotics summer camp and in May, the studio staff and makers-in-residence helped Kiser Middle School’s meteorology club launch a high-altitude weather balloon into the stratosphere for the second year. The SELF team plans to work with the meteorology club for another launch in 2019.
“With the students and all their ideas,” Fisher says, “no day here is every the same.”