Maker Movement Thrives at Country School

Seventh graders at New Canaan Country School are building mini-machines with a personal twist in a newly developed Maker Class.  Based on their interests and imaginations, they have created inventions such as jumping dolphins, dancing disco scenes and automated catapults. 
The seventh grade elective was added to the Upper School’s (grades 7-9) course line-up in the fall and has been met with great enthusiasm. “We have been fully-enrolled every semester,” says Technology Teacher Bruce Lemoine who is spearheading the school’s maker initiative. While technology is integrated in classrooms and throughout the school, a Maker Class gives students the opportunity to use cutting-edge tools with recycled materials.
 
The class meets every other day in a large, open classroom full of bins of electronic bits, circuit wires, recycled materials and tools.  Working with Mr. Lemoine, students learn fundamental principles of design, electricity, programming and 3D modeling through hands-on projects. They utilize a variety of electronic kits such as Little Bits, Hummingbird Kits and Art Bots.
 
As an example,  seventh graders Madeline McCarthy and Grace English made a ferris wheel using wood, sticks and rocks, and mini motors, switches and LED lights. “We had to be very meticulous,” they said. “There was a lot of trial and error before we got the wheel to finally turn.”
 
Mr. Lemoine says that he aims to balance instruction with creativity. After he teaches the students about the technology and tools, describing their functions and limitations, he encourages them to experiment. “Creativity is important, but so is precision. We always design first, build, test and rebuild. It’s all about design and function, and breaking down complex challenges into solvable parts.”
 
In addition to learning technical skills, a primary goal of the class is to have the children think of themselves as creators.  “We want to break the mindset that they are strictly consumers of technology and to think of themselves as ‘makers.’”
 
The seventh grade class is a continuation of subjects that students have learned in previous grades. The formal study of computer programming begins in Middle School (Grades 5 & 6) using Scratch, robotics and 3D Design. In addition, there are several clubs taught by a several faculty members that incorporate “Maker” principals, such as a Lego Robotics Club and Girls-only Robotics Club. “We hope that they are exposed to foundational skills that they can pursue in more depth in secondary schools,” says Mr. Lemoine.
 
“This class has definitely made me more interested in technology,” said Alex Byrne who built a butterfly on a rotating base. 
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