On Dec. 12 University Elementary School at La Fiesta will host their second annual Maker World, a free, family-friendly event that will showcase students’ work in various STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) projects. This year the event will take place on the elementary school campus, in hopes that it will also educate parents on the importance of project-based learning.
“It will be at our school [versus at SSU where it took place last year] because we want to use this event as a marketing tool,” says Ryan Kurada, TK / Kindergarten Teacher at University Elementary and one of the organizers of the event. “We want parents to come to our school to see where we are and showcase the great space that we have for learning.”
All nine classrooms in the school, representing about 230 TK through 5th grade students, will participate. Projects will be set up in each classroom. In addition, the multi-purpose room will feature Starlab, an indoor planetarium on loan from Sonoma State University. Other hands-on, interactive maker demonstrations and activities will be hosted by Play-Well Teknologies, the Sonoma State University Physics Club, and the Sonoma County Office of Education.
“We will have representatives from the Sonoma County Office of Education’s visual impairment department that will present on light and optics,” says Kurada. “They’re going to have a glow room to teach how light can be used to teach visually impaired students. It will be a cool experience for the kids to see how light can be used in so many different ways.”
The school’s new maker space will also be open that evening. The room was created last year by the school’s teachers with the help and support of the PTA and parents. There students learn how to properly use tools such as hot glue guns and canary cutters and are given a wide variety of materials to build and create.
The school’s unique emphasis on project-based learning builds students’ critical thinking skills as well as collaborative and teamwork skills. While this type of teaching can be more rigorous and challenging, it also makes a deeper, lasting impact on students and Kurada hopes that University Elementary’s learning philosophy will become a model for other schools in Sonoma County.
“Project-based learning is such a great avenue for them [the students] to learn from each other,” says Kurada. “Project-based learning goes beyond the basics of what is taught like reading, writing and arithmetic. We’re studying science and social studies-based topics and those topics are rich for all ages. So, when they’re engaged in a project like that it allows everyone to be at the forefront of learning.”
Kurada’s class, as an example, engaged in a three-month long project on ants that was inspired by the students’ own interests. The teaching tied into normal curriculum standards and crossed subjects including science, language arts, and math. Other projects presented by the other classes include ones on space and the solar system, landforms, and a podcast produced by a 4th and 5th grade class.
The event will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will also offer pizza and beverages, donated by the school’s PTA.
“We look forward to this event every fall,” says Kurada. “It’s so awesome to see the community come out and support project based learning and public education and to really marvel at what kids can do. With project-based learning and maker education together it does really lend itself to so much student autonomy and student voice and choice. They really have an investment in what they do, and they care about what they’re making and how to best showcase their learning.”