Makerspace a Key Ingredient in Solar System Collaboration

Feb. 17, 2017 ~ Studying the solar system is much more than a science project at Pioneer Trail Middle School. For sixth-graders it meant using math to calculate each planet's distance from the sun, using their writing skills to prepare a speech about one planet, testing their creativity by painting a 3-D printed planet to look like the real thing, and exploring the greenhouse effect by building a tiny house.

The recent solar system collaboration began as a way to introduce students to the school library's new makerspace.

"The catalyst for this project was Rita Costello — parent, volunteer, and master's in education student," Pioneer Trail library media specialist Sharon Beggs said. "Her assignment last semester was to develop a complete unit for her college class. She was excited about the makerspace in our library, so we decided to add that to the science classroom activities.

"This was really a collaborative effort between science teachers Harriet Bennett, Michelle Sullivan and Angela Carlson, Rita and myself."

"We wanted students to be aware of the resources available in the library so they will use them in the future," Costello said. "Sixth-graders have the longest future ahead of them at Pioneer Trail. We believed that if we exposed these students to the library's makerspace and trained them on how to use some of its technology, they could use those resources throughout their entire stay at Pioneer Trail."

There were several components to the grade-level learning event including building little greenhouses and covering them with various materials to see which one held in the most heat after being under a heat lamp for 20 minutes, comparing the red storm of Jupiter to a tornado and then making their own tornado in a bottle, preparing a video about the planet of their choice, and designing a 3-D model of their planet using the library's makerspace printer. Each teacher focused on a particular activity rather than trying to cover every element on their own.

"The teachers liked that the lessons incorporated the science, technology, engineering and math included in the NextGeneration Science Standards," Costello said. "They also liked the lower student/teacher ratio that came from working with Sharon and myself."

Science teacher Carlson was excited about the outcome of this collaboration between classroom teachers and library media specialists.

"The amount of time that went into this was incredible," she said. "Simply making a schedule for teams to rotate through the stations took hours.

"The students really loved this project and were 100 percent invested in it. The amount of knowledge they gained was incredible."

The teachers will keep the larger solar system models in their classrooms as examples of how the makerspace's 3-D printer can be used in lessons.

"The 3-D printer has encouraged students to return to the makerspace," Beggs said. "It also provided a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know many more sixth-graders. I overheard one of them say, 'I never knew this library was so cool; I love this place.' I smiled to myself – we just captured another one!"

Students watch a 3-D printer

Students watch the 3-D printer make Jupiter planets for their solar system project. The school library’s makerspace is in need of a second 3-D printer to handle the increased demands of classroom projects. A $600 Fund-a-Need grant through the Olathe Public Schools Foundation for BAM! Be A Maker @ PT Makerspace would purchase a printer and four rolls of filament. Potential donors can learn more on the foundation’s website:

Girl watches iPad video monitor A student watches an iPad monitor as her classmate records his planetary tour guide presentation. Each student researched a particular planet and wrote a script as if they were a tour guide on an interplanetary trip in a space shuttle. Green screen technology enabled them to add media to their presentation. There were a total of 29 “shuttles,” each containing the videos of eight students.
Boy makes water tornado in bottle

Students learned about the red storm on Jupiter and compared it to a tornado. Then they tried to create a tornado effect using water flowing from one plastic bottle to another. They brainstormed ways to securely attach the two bottles, yet decrease the water flow between them by keeping the bottle caps on. At the conclusion of the unit, students were tested to determine the success of the hands-on unit.

Students beside the solar system model

Students calculated astronomical units and the distance each planet is from the sun before making a scale model of the solar system. When complete, the solar system model stretched about 30 meters and 10 centimeters from the sun to Neptune, where a student stood with her arms outstretched in the hallway. “I think the students enjoyed having the freedom to move around and apply the knowledge they had gained in the tradition classroom setting,” event coordinator Rita Costello said.

Photos by Marlene Colgan