When St. Dominic School principal Carol Bathmann was looking for ideas last summer to expand STEM in the Brick school, she found the answer in Makerspace.

A dedicated room filled with tools and components, the Makerspace is above all a communal space designed for collaborative learning. Bathmann and teacher Erin Lindstrom readied a room with appropriate furniture, including tables of different heights for use standing or seated, and various engineering tools.

“It’s a place where third- through eighth-grade students can design and create, using a variety of materials, participating in collaborative design challenges,” Bathmann explained. “We made sure two of the walls were painted with whiteboard paint, so students can sketch out their ideas – every kid’s dream, to write on the walls!”

The engineering starts with a problem that must be solved – around which Lindstrom sometimes crafts a story to get the students more engaged and excited. She gets her challenge ideas from various sources, including NASA, TeachEngineering.org, Technovation Families and TryEngineering.org.

“I’ve learned so many things from Makerspace,” said eighth-grader Brian McKeon, explaining that his favorite project so far was trying to solve the problem of birds that die when they run into ocean-placed wind turbines during migration.

“I researched different birds that travel across the ocean, and what predators scare them the most,” he explained. The team ultimately designed “a machine that would emit a sound that would replicate a cry from one of the predators” using a motion-activated sensor.