Allison Hepfer, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Hamagrael Elementary School, was presented with a “makerspace” prize pack worth $4,300 at her school on Wednesday, Dec. 7. Hepfer, who signed up for Barnes & Noble‘s Fall Educator Appreciation National Sweepstakes on behalf of Hamagrael, was the sole winner of the prize, which will significantly augment STEM (or STEAM) programming already being undertaken by Bethlehem educators districtwide.
“At Hamagrael, we encourage our students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers,” said Hepfer. “The makerspace and the prizes we received will allow the children to collaborate in a really innovative way.
Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest book and media retailer, hosted the first retail Mini Maker Faire last fall in partnership with Maker Media, creator of Make: Magazine. In early November, it held the second annual event at stores nationwide, inviting educators, students, tech enthusiasts and makers of all stripes to take part in workshops, demonstrations and discussion of innovative ideas, tools and practices. In maker culture, there is an emphasis placed on STEAM learning—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. . . with the addition of Arts + Design in the middle.
Hamagrael students now have access to some of the leading products in technology today, including littleBits™ STEAM Student Set, Dash Robot by Wonder Workshop, Code-a-Pillar by Fisher Price, Bloxels Build Your Own Video Games by Mattel, da Vinci Jr. 1.0 WiFi 3D Printer and a 7.0-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab A NOOK ®. The school will also receive books that teach how to use technology in the spirit of collaboration, cooperative learning and teamwork. The book prize package includes titles like Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation and Getting Started in Raspberry Pi.
“Students will be able to use it in their classrooms and we will be setting up a MakerSpace in the school,” Hepfer said. “We also hope to partner with students from the high school to help guide our young students as they explore this new technology.”
The makerspace prize came at an opportune time for the Bethlehem Central School District, which also took part in the national Hour of Code initiative this week and sent students from Slingerlands Elementary to compete in an innovation challenge at RPI. In addition to recently adding computer science courses—and differentiating them from mathematics courses—at the high school level, the district also held the first meeting of it’s K-5 Computer Science Cabinet last month.
“Introducing Computer Science at the K-5 level is not a new initiative,” District Assistant Superintendent Dave Hurst told Spotlight News. “Others at the K-5 level have also used programming and robotics in their classrooms for years. We are now putting together a framework for all teachers to follow thus ensuring consistency across our five elementary buildings. The ISTE and CSTA standards are guiding the work. The goal of the computer science framework for K-5 is not to produce programmers, but rather students that can solve problems and think critically.”
“Computer Science doesn’t mean just programming,” he said at the Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting. “It’s very broad. We’re looking to develop a map for what skills students should be required to obtain in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth and fifth grades. After that, we’ll take a look at the middle school.”
Currently, only 40 percent of schools in the nation offer computer science courses, according to Code.org, yet computer science majors tend to earn about 40 percent more over their lifetime than the average college graduate. Computing jobs are currently the primary source of new wages in the US and job openings are expected to grow at twice the rate of other jobs, leaving an expected dearth of job applicants—in less than ten years, statistics project there will be a million more jobs available than there will be computer-science graduates.
“Teachers will be receiving additional training from Barnes and Noble to learn how to use the [makerspace] materials,” said Hepfer, “such as lessons about coding and the use of the 3-D printer.”