UNCG Inspires Creative Teachers with Makerspaces

Posted on September 14, 2023

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Many students learn best by doing or building. Teachers can learn the same way. UNC Greensboro’s School of Education students – as well as current teachers – need spaces where they can experiment, learn from mistakes, and fine-tune ideas so that they feel more confident in their classrooms.

Dr. Sara Porter, associate professor of teacher education and higher education; and Matt Fisher, assistant director of the SELF Design Studio, give them spaces to stretch their creative muscles: Off campus, educators can design curriculum products at the makerspace Forge Greensboro. On campus, in the SELF Design Studio, education students learn about educational technology to support “making” in the classroom.

“I always tell them, ‘You’re going to leave here with a Batman utility belt of things that you can do with your students,'” says Fisher.

“These kinds of spaces help teachers, specifically science teachers, think differently about teaching science. It gives them different experiences as learners,” says Porter.

Forge ahead 

Porter is on the board of Forge Greensboro, a non-profit on West Lewis Street in downtown Greensboro. People go there if they need tools for projects like woodwork, ceramics, and 3D printing.

“The Forge was originally a space for people who already knew how to do woodworking but didn’t have a giant belt sander in their house,” says Porter. “But within the last couple of years, they’ve added classes.”

Using grant money from the National Science Foundation, Porter held professional development workshops for ten educators who hail from public, private, and charter schools across Guilford and Rockingham Counties. They were tasked with making things that run on solar power. They also received one-year memberships so they could design hands-on educational activities on their own time.

One of the participants had just graduated with their master of science in human development and family studies at UNCG. “It was my very first time ever stepping foot into a makerspace,” says Imani Mitchell ’22, who is now Forge Greensboro’s director of education and member engagement. “Hearing these educators reflect on what they learned and having the courage to try something new was really encouraging for me as I was in a new space with a new job.”

The workshops coincided with the Forge’s tenth anniversary celebration, so the participants got to show their curriculum designs to the public. Fisher designed t-shirts for them to wear to the event.

“It was a great family event and something that we hope to do regularly,” says Porter.

‘SELF Discovery 

Fisher enrolled in the workshops to nurture his own creativity and made a hand-cranked device called an Automata. “It’s definitely been helpful to have mentors at the Forge for the projects that I’m working on with my students,” he says.

Fisher helps run UNCG’s SELF (Student Educator Learning Factory) Design Studio, a makerspace for School of Education students. They can go there to craft models, work on physical projects, and test out activities before they give them to children.

“If my students leave me with three, four, or five solid experiences where they themselves are creating, and they feel confident in that,” says Fisher, “Then they are ready to reproduce that with their students.”

The School of Education faculty can also assign projects in the SELF Design Studio. For Porter’s class about classroom culture, the students build a model classroom and arrange desks and furniture. It helps them conceptualize how even the smallest physical details within a learning space can make a difference in a child’s ability to focus and engage.

“Organizing your classroom space can be really abstract for pre-service teachers,” says Porter. “When I have them build a model classroom, then they have to demonstrate some of their ideas and theories. Their ideas become practical; they can see them in front of them and play around with them.”

Model for success 

Porter and Fisher have high hopes for their future collaborations with Forge Greensboro. “I’m constantly giving of my creativity,” says Fisher. “The Forge gives me a chance to refill myself of sorts, to have that experience as well.”

That experience applies to all people who visit these makerspaces, whether they are educators learning new skills, studying to become teachers at UNCG, or kids still in elementary school.

Mitchell likes to use the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle: “There are so many nuggets of information that we want to instill in youth to create one beautiful picture. Forge Greensboro can provide one of those pieces.”

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography by Micciche Photography, courtesy of Dr. Sara Porter, School of Education

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