How to Utilize a Makerspace for World Language Learning

Blog Series, Learner Experience, Learning, Learning Design, PreK-12, Smart Teachers

Makerspaces are often mistaken for extensions of a school science or engineering department, but I think a great deal is lost if a makerspace is only used specifically for STEM projects.

The tinkering, iteration and physical connection to content afforded by a makerspace can be brought to *every* subject area, and my awesome World Language teacher colleagues have really nailed that goal.

At our school, children begin learning one specific non-English language in first grade. The choices are French, Spanish and Mandarin, and teachers in all three languages have designed and executed engaging learning experiences in our makerspace that have enhanced our kiddos’ abilities in the target language.

Makerspace/World Language projects have ranged in scope just as widely as in any other subject area, from quick one-day projects to deep long-term projects, and from strictly digital projects like Scratch games and greenscreen video to strictly physical projects like handmade jewelry and animal statues. Here are a few of our projects:

Digital Productions

Greenscreen: Wish-You-Were-Here postcards, telephone conversation videos, commercials, weather reports, fashion shows, interviews with characters in different professions.

Greenscreen

Digital Games: “Build Your Own Dreamhouse,” “Find Your Way Around the House”

CompGames

Digital/Physical Combination Productions

Physical Computing with MaKey MaKey: Rainforest dioramas with audio when you touch an object.

Laser Cutting: Book covers, pull-tab posters about hobbies in different seasons and weather, rotating-wheel posters about daily routines and weather cycles.

Physical Comp

Physical Constructions

  • Making jewelry for a class market
  • Making homes for different toy animals
  • Modifying animal statues to be fast or slow (rapido o lento) or soft or hard (suave o duro)
  • Making LED Dia de los Muertos “candles”
  • Clothed paper dolls with descriptions as on doll or action figure packaging

Jewelry

Digital productions give students extra opportunity to practice their spoken language, as well as opportunity for students to listen to each other. The Scratch games in particular drew students into the games, and many students spent extra time outside of school playing each other’s games–creates a lot of extra listening and reading practice!

Physical constructions give students personal manipulatives to use in practicing the language. These were most effective as very quick one-day projects, and when followed up with an activity using the objects. The seventh grade Spanish jewelry market was perhaps the best example of this. One day of making a variety of jewelry items followed by a day of “buying and selling” in a class market.

The sixth grade Mandarin paper dolls were also quick–two class periods–and the Mandarin teacher added a great follow up activity: one student read their descriptions on the packaging while another student attempted to draw the paper doll based just on the description without seeing the doll itself. Through this project, students had great composition, reading and listening practice in the target vocabulary about colors and clothing.

The least effective projects were probably the laser cut book covers (third and fourth grades) and the LED “candles” (first and second grades) because they were both very time-consuming without lending much extra language practice. These were also both very early in the year when we were still perhaps a little overly excited about the tools and not yet fully focused on the learning outcomes.

My awesome World Language teacher colleagues proved throughout the year that makerspace activities should definitely not be restricted to STEM subjects, and that digital and physical skills can be applied towards deepening learning across all subjects.

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Lindsey Own

Lindsey Own

Lindsey Own teaches science at The Evergreen School in Shoreline, WA. Follow Lindsey on Twitter, @LindseyOwn.

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