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Gresham's Powell Valley Elementary opens maker space

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Teachers Doug Robertson and Michael Stephens cut the ribbon for Powell Valley Elementarys new Maker Space with the help of a pair of quad-copters Thursday, Feb. 4. Powell Valley Elementary School just opened a new maker space where students can use a variety of materials to enhance their education with hands-on learning.

The new room is filled with learning tools to encourage education in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The maker space was created by parent volunteers and spearheaded by two teachers at the school.

“I’m really encouraged that this is happening at an elementary school in Gresham, and this is not an affluent school. It’s so exciting that the teachers had a vision and the parents came around and supported it,” said Powell Valley parent Alison Gentry.

Powell Valley’s 470 kindergarten through fifth-grade students can use a 3D printer, Legos, computers, fabric and other materials to design, build, experiment, invent, create, fabricate and more.

The so-called maker movement is gaining steam in the U.S. and worldwide and maker spaces are popping up all over. The Rockwood Library is putting the finishing touches on a 1,000 square foot maker space, which will open soon.

Each maker space is unique, but all are some sort of mash-up of science lab, art studio, computer lab and shop class.

“In just three short months, with the direction of a small group of teachers, parents and administrators, we have managed to pull together a space that will allow our students room to learn coding, movie editing, circuit building, weaving, Lego building, sewing, 3D printing and so much more,” Gentry said.

“It is a miracle. Nothing in a pubic school should happen this fast,” said fifth-grade teacher Doug Robertson, who led the charge for the maker space with fourth-grade teacher Michael Stephens.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA -  Powell Valley Elementary parent volunteers Allison Gentry and Michelle Waggoner share a laugh last Thursday at the opening of the schools new Maker Space. They worked countless hours to get the new maker space up and running.The teachers “came and talked about it at a site council meeting. They really caught a vision for it and we really got excited about it,” Gentry said.

Robertson acknowledged that the maker movement could be considered contrary to the current emphasis on standardized testing.

“The pendulum is always swinging in education. Standardized testing has been very important. This is not that style of teaching. But, be sure, students are still learning in this space.”

Principal Michele Cook, said the space “creates an amazing opportunity for kids. The kids get to choose something they are interested in and pursue it.”

The work to create the space has been done by volunteers and the equipment furnished through donations.

Gentry and another mom, Michelle Waggoner, gave an unused portable classroom a fresh coat of paint. Local businesses contributed gift cards. A gofundme campaign initiated by teacher Stephens raised $905. The parent-teacher club contributed about $500, with another $1,500 pledged toward Chromebooks and iPad Minis.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Michael Stephens fifth grade class watch a Sphero robot dance around the floor in Powell Valley Elementarys new Maker Space.Teacher Robertson applied for and received a donation of a new Polar 3D printer from the manufacturer. There is a board game that teaches coding to preschoolers. The room also has several Spheros, which are small balls that students can code instructions that will tell the ball how to move.

“We have received countless donations of fabric, Legos, beads, ribbon, Erector sets, sewing machines, and old, unused tech for our kids to tinker with,” Gentry said. The organizers also scavenged the school for unused materials that could be deployed in the maker space.

There is a “green screen” to shoot videos and video editing equipment. Gentry explained that a student studying American history could sew an Abraham Lincoln costume, film a scene in front of the green screen and edit in a scene from Lincoln’s history to place the student at Gettysburg or another historic location.

Teachers will take their classes in and will be responsible for how they use the space and equipment.

Robertson said he, Stephens and other tech-savvy teachers will support teachers who may be less fluent in technology on how to use the Spheros, computers and other high-tech gear to teach students coding, math and other subjects.

“We have said ‘we understand this is hard ... anytime you need any help...my door is open,’” Robertson said.

Principal Cook said the project came together in a very organic way with “amazing collaboration between parents, teachers and the community.”

Gentry agreed, “It’s truly incredible what our community has rallied to do in just a short time.”

Cook, smiling broadly at the opening, said “you know it’s the right thing, when it gives you goose bumps.”