Makerspace concept fits Cole’s enthusiastic personality

June 27, 2018

Evan Cole shows the Mother's Day card he created as part of the Makerspace project at this year’s Saskatchewan IT Summit.

Spend a few minutes with Evan Cole and his enthusiasm is readily evident, if not contagious.

The other impression that comes to mind is that although he is very much on the cutting edge of technology, he is equally intrigued by more traditional props.

That ability to combine the better of two worlds made it a natural fit for Cole to hang out with like-minded folks in the makerspace area at the recent Saskatchewan IT Summit held in Saskatoon. It is a safe bet that those in the room would not be offended by referring to themselves as grown-up kids. Their shared enthusiasm and curiosity would doubtlessly be mirrored by their students.

Well, in Cole’s case, he is currently not in the classroom. In the last year, he completed his master of education degree in educational technology and design and was then seconded to the SaskCode program from Saskatoon Public Schools. His role there is to help introduce coding and computational thinking skills to K-12 teachers and students alike.

As he concurred, the last year has been quite a whirlwind, yet there is little doubt that he has passionately immersed himself in his new duties. He likes the variety of working with both elementary and high school level curricula.

“We know there are a lot of programs out there and the great thing is that they fit really well into meeting the curriculum outcomes. This work allows you to use your imagination and it helps to be passionate,” he joked.

That imagination is just the ticket when it comes to makerspace, which is described as a collaborative workspace inside a school, library or other facility. It has been somewhat of a buzzword for quite some time now among the “techie” sector, but it is questionable as to the degree it has made inroads in education.

“I think in the last ten years the attitude around it has changed,” Cole offered. “We’re seeing a lot more people who are realizing that play-based learning has benefits. It speaks to the inquiry model. I think across the sector we are doing a better job of realizing that it is not happening in isolation, but can have an impact across subject areas because they are so interconnected.”

Cole suggested that the makerspace concept could relate to not just the sciences for example, but that it can also have relevance to English language arts and the other humanities.

“It comes down to how we use space and how to tie that into the more creative process. I think one of the appeals is that for students in particular, this can feel a bit more real and they relate to it.”

Using his own six-year-old as an example, Cole mentioned how they will often play with Lego together while also talking and discussing. He calls this experiential learning at its finest.

Cole is also fond of the idea that the whole maker mindset, or creating something out of nothing, offers much more flexibility in terms of finding solutions to a problem.

“I can go to a Starbucks and work on my project and not have to be tied to a chair, which has a lot of appeal for students,” he said.

Ironically, when he speaks of his own childhood, it’s very much a case of coming full circle for Cole who remembers his dad always being busy doing television and radio repair work around the house.

“We always had something taken apart and were working on. You couldn’t see the kitchen table; it was more like a work bench that we ate at, much to mother’s dismay,” he joked.

“So basically I grew up in an environment where you just created solutions to problems and that’s a lot of what this is about. It’s a reflective process and you use your imagination.”

Cole made it clear that adapting this model in the classroom requires you as an educator to give up some control.

“The trade-off is you see what you can accomplish together if you trust the students and so there’s the payoff. It makes learning that much more meaningful when you take off the constraints,” he observed.

Cole also stressed the long-term benefits for students since this whole approach can be particularly helpful in contemplating future career possibilities, of which he says there are many areas where the makerspace philosophy can be particularly beneficial.

Therefore, it is his hope that teachers become more immersed in the whole approach.

“I like working with teachers who are more energized than me, and I have a lot,” he laughed. “It feels really good to get the ball rolling and then others need to take it down the hill. This is one of those few places where there really is a trickle-down effect, and this is how we change things at the grassroots. It might seem like [it is happening in] slow motion sometimes but it’s rewarding.”

As part of his sales pitch, Cole suggested that “everyone can make something and we should celebrate that. The first step is teachers sitting down, making something, and then sharing it with their students. This journey is transferrable. When you see it unfolding, that’s why a lot of people call this a passion project,” he said.