From Dream Labs to Launch Pads: Innovation Pods for Kindergarteners

Kindergarten students at the Mason Early Childhood Center (MECC) in Ohio can now tinker in a makerspace pod shared between four classrooms. After champion educators Lori Miller, Ragan Reeves and Krissy Hufnagel secured a grant from the Mason Schools Foundation, they partnered with School Outfitters' design team to create MECC's first Launch Pad - a shared pod where kindergarteners can collaborate, create and code.

The purpose of the Launch Pad is to develop the "maker mindset" early and prepare children for 21st-century opportunities as adults. According to kindergarten teacher Ragan Reeves, "Perseverance, optimism, (and) empathy can be put into maker (activities) because you have to think you can do it, you have to stick with it, and you have to go back to make it better. If you fail, try again. There's a lot of that. The first work might not be the best."

Fellow teacher, Lori Miller, sees kindergarten as an opportune time to introduce maker activities, observing that, "Kindergarteners are naturally curious. If you ask them what they want to do, they say, 'I want to make a robot,' 'I want to build a city,' 'I want to make a video game.' There are so many opportunities for them."

The Launch Pad aligns with Mason City School District's vision to progress students' maker skills throughout all grades. Using video production as an example, Innovation Director, Krissy Hufnagel explains, "We want to say, 'Here's how makerspace goes K-12'. Kindergarten video production might be making a video with Apple Clips. In first and second grade, they're using the Do Ink app with the green screen. Then at MI (Mason Intermediate School for fourth - sixth graders), they're producing a weekly video. Then, at the high school, we have a student-staffed news show."

More makerspaces are planned throughout Mason City School District with Innovation Directors at every level to ensure the curriculum and the facilities to encourage the maker mindset across all grade levels.

Before the Launch Pad, kindergarteners engaged in maker activities in the Dream Lab, a renovated area of the library used by all students at MECC. However, half-day kindergarten sessions didn't allot enough time for creative work after lining up students, walking to the library, setting up, cleaning up, lining up again and walking back to the classroom. The Launch Pad now allows kindergarteners to simply step into the common area between classrooms to complete their projects. The new Launch Pad sets the mold for three other Launch Pads that will let all kindergarteners at MECC enjoy spaces created just for their needs.

The shared makerspace also promotes greater student responsibility. For example, it encourages children to be good stewards of the common area.

"Because they have to share materials, kids have to get what they need, and only what they need," says Ragan Reeves. "We have taught them how to manage supplies."

Students also assume leadership roles.

"We like to incorporate students as experts," says Lori Miller. "We can make a chart showing all of the experts. Then kids can go to the experts to find out how to do something."

Children are also responsible for communicating with each other.

"Another great teaching tool is sharing out," says Ragan Reeves. "A child can share how they came up with something, or how something failed-how (they) tried something and it didn't work. So then, kids can see that it's a process-that they're not going to get it the first time."

School Outfitters helped these innovators design a space that empowers students and facilitates collaboration.

"There is one shared space," explains Lori Miller. "(Students) have to negotiate their space so they can work together."

A variety of lightweight seating options let children adapt their space and work in positions that work best for them. Lori Miller continues, "They kneel on the floor, or they will pull up soft seating. Some prefer to stand, and they like to be up and moving around. They pull and grab what they want (for seating)."

Learniture Active Learning Stools offer energetic children an outlet so they can keep focus. As Ragan Reeves observes, "I've had kids who couldn't complete a spelling test without falling out of their chair. Wobbling (on the stools) the whole time focuses them on completing the task in the normal time."

Dual-purpose furnishings, like whiteboard tables, let students work on projects more effectively. Ragan Reeves explains, "The kids have been using the white-top table to draw on. They are very collaborative kids, which is a hard skill to teach in kindergarten. But they have been collaborating on the whiteboard table."

Mobile storage carts also serve multiple purposes, with magnetic posting surfaces on the back and a top that students can use as a workbench. Bins on every shelf let children bring a whole container of materials to their work areas, maximizing project time by reducing time spent on setup and cleanup.

School Outfitters is proud to work with Mason City Schools to furnish spaces that will facilitate these goals. "Vibrant spaces inspire kids," says Ragan Reeves. "This is our goal-so welcome-come on in-let's do this."

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