By Jane Seiss
Juniors at Severna Park High School are working in the school’s new makerspace to design and make conceptual projects that demonstrate their understanding of abstract ideas they studied in literature. After reading “The Scarlet Letter,” students analyzed main characters from the book and are now creating a physical item that is an interpretation of one of those characters.
“It’s pretty cool idea,” school librarian Marianne Fitgerald said. “They had to connect ‘The Scarlet Letter’ with today’s current news — cyberbullying, slut shaming, etc.”
During the unit of study, English teachers and the librarian led lessons about the themes of the book and related them to relevant modern-day behaviors. Students are using the makerspace to create a final project using what they learned. They are making scrapbooks, portraits on canvas, sculptures, and even a podcast for the assignment.
Last year, Fitzgerald and English teacher Valerie Earhart came up with the idea of using the makerspace for classwork. They wanted to encourage students to activate their imaginations and use their hands to create something that demonstrated some of what they learned from reading an assigned book. At the time, Earhart’s students were reading “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
“It’s a great book, but it’s a hard book,” Earhart explained. She admitted that many times students are busy and distracted and not reading assigned books, instead accessing online resources to get the information needed to do classwork related to the literature. “They’re missing out on the best part of what I have to offer, which is immersing themselves in a novel,” Earhart said.
The makerspace idea is a solution designed to encourage students to read and enjoy it. “This kind of project allows them to engage with the literature,” Earhart said.
The makerspace is housed in the high school’s state-of-the-art media center. The collaborative workspace offers the latest technology and even low-tech materials like paper and glue. The makerspace concept is popular in education. It is an idea that emerged from STEM education. Makerspaces allow for project-led instruction that promotes thinking and learning in new ways.
“Our makerspace is equipped with a 3D printer, 3D pens, crafting supplies, fabrics, yarn, a vinyl cutting machine, etc.,” Fitzgerald explained. “We have a green screen, video cameras, MacBooks, and podcasting equipment.” Parents have donated plenty of crafting supplies, and there are also Legos and K’Nex for building.
“Project-based learning lends itself to almost any subject matter but especially literature,” Fitzgerald said. “It gives the students a creative way to look at the author’s message and theme and then interpret and express their own view on it. It’s a different way to assess students learning, growth and understanding.”
For “The Scarlet Letter” project, students also have to write a paper, which counts for half of their project grade. When they finish their makerspace items, they will present their work to the class and explain how it represents ideas they learned from the novel.
The SPHS makerspace is available for students’ personal use as well. With permission from Fitzgerald, they may use the space during lunch breaks or after school. In the coming weeks, the library hopes to offer makerspace activities and invite students to try out this resource and all it has to offer.