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How does it work in practice?

Spark is an active makerspace at Penketh High School in Warrington.
In order to prepare young people and children for future jobs, Industry 4.0, it’s really, really important that we are able to give them experience of makerspaces. Not just as extracurricular things, but also to really embed this within schools. And so I’m really, really excited to be here today at Spark, a makerspace at Penketh High School with the amazing Caroline Keep, who is director of the space. There’s our bell. Proof we’re in a school. So Caroline, I know we can talk about this for absolutely hours. Can you just tell me a little bit about your makerspace, what you do here? And actually perhaps just a little bit to mention we’re at high school here.
This is the first makerspace in the UK that’s embedded into a high school. So we’re very proud of it. It originally started in a very old DT lab where we decided we wanted to integrate a makerspace and the skill set that’s required for young people to create and make their own projects into and alongside our national curricula, really. So into our school. We modelled it on industry makerspaces. And we concentrate on Industry 4 skills and giving a good introduction to all of those skills for all of our students. So every student from year 7 through 9 gets bespoke modules across - that run across a term - in one particular skill set.
So for example, year 7 at the moment are doing HTML and CSS and Raspberry Pi. And then we also run enrichment programmes that run in our lunchtime enrichments and some are now after school. We do trips out. We do lots and lots of different projects. And our year 10s and 11s have individual projects that they can work on across that time that’s so crucial for their GCSEs. And we work with libraries in our community so that they can deliver projects across the whole of Warrington, which is about to start soon. So yeah, it’s a thriving makerspace, really.
What’s been the reaction from the children? Oh, our children are really, really good with it. They really love it. We’ve surveyed all our kids. It’s about 92% engagement in our space. They see it as very crucial for the skills, their future skills, how they think about their jobs, how they think about their careers, what kind of aspirations they’ve got. They very much quickly change their thinking in our space. And also, they develop skills like resilience and well-being and able to have a sense of ownership over something. How have you kind of gone about sourcing things? Have you have a big budget? What’s been your - Not particularly. [LAUGHS] Not particularly. At first, we had zero budget.
Microbits was the first things we had. Every secondary school has microbits. You go in a cupboard, you’ll find them somewhere. At first, it was Microbits and cardboard. Then we managed to get together Raspberry Pis. We went to our communities, our parents, our makerspaces. We went out to speak to people. We asked people to donate us laptops, keyboards, things that they didn’t want, tools. We crowdsourced it pretty much like a normal makerspace would. And then when we realised just how big this project would become, we have a relatively really, really low budget per year that just keeps us ticking over in things that we’d like. Have the teachers got involved in the makerspace themselves? Yeah. Slowly but surely, we’re getting that.
We wanted to get to our kids first because our kids were the main priority. Every year that we delay these things, they lack the digital skills we need for those digital jobs that the gap is already growing for. So our priority is always our children. So we wanted to give it to them first. And then we figured we’d integrate the staff as we went. Do you find that the children take on enough to be able to teach others or even teach the teachers? Yes. So quite often, we’re doing this thing where we let our teachers know what kinds of projects our kids are doing. So this last term year 9 we’re doing app development.
So every teacher, you know, who’s coming in to bring me children, it was “This term it’s app development for year 9.” So that then they can not necessarily understand the skills themselves, but be able to go to a class, “I know you did app development this term, so this term, I’d like your homework in an app.” OK. So if you’ve just got one little piece of advice for teachers out there thinking, should we? Is this something we want to embark on? I’d probably say, the best advice I could probably give to start your makerspace is get your school community together.
Just a few key people or your whole school if you can, and just ask them, look up what a makerspace is. What do you think our school makerspace would be about? Once you’ve asked them, you’ll get a lot of ideas. You’ll find a lot of teachers, if you ask them to think broad and big, as if money was no object and nothing was off bounds, you’ll get a lot of answers that you just didn’t expect. And then ask the kids. And then by the end of that, you tend to end up with a plan of how it’s going to look.
But first, having those kind of conversations and enabling those conversations within school are the real crucial parts to start with. People often think the first thing you’re going to say is, “Well, what about all the kit you’ll need?” And I can’t emphasise enough the kit part is really nothing to worry about. You will get kit, even if you’ve got zero budget. You know, that’s not the big sticking point. The people make a makerspace, absolutely. The people, your community, your children, your parents, your teachers. They’re what truly make a makerspace unique, not necessarily what kit it is this week.
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