Meadow School sixth-grader Lucia Garay said she was mildly surprised when mathematical concepts creeped into her head when she tried to solve a puzzle about ramps, marbles and inertia during her "maker" lesson.
"When we were working on the ramp, I actually thought about geometry," Garay said. "I find it very inspiring. I like to be creative, but I also like to be productive."
To her, the task was about fun and a little problem solving. For Meadow School Principal Melissa Becker it is about more.
Becker this school year launched the school's Maker Lab, where students in kindergarten through sixth grade incorporate philosophies of the maker movement, a loosely defined ethos centered around tinkering and do-it-yourself building.
The students spend time solving prompts like how to move a marble across the room using only three materials, or building things with just pipe cleaners and Scrabble tiles.
"I think we have, just over time, created a rote society," she said. "This is a real shift to 'Why does it work this way?'"
"It's been very interesting to watch the change. They are so used to adults kind of directing and telling them how it has to be done," she said. "I'm not. I look at them and say 'Do you think this is a good idea?'"
Meadow joins a growing list of Sonoma County schools embracing the maker concept, including Piner High School, Analy High School, Comstock Middle School and others. Becker said there is no reason the philosophy behind the maker movement can't work with elementary-age students.
And the hands-on projects that students have been conducting since the beginning of the school year fit with the change of instructional direction demanded by the new, state-adopted Common Core curriculum, she said.
"(Teachers) see the intrinsic value in it," Becker said. "This, to me, is the perfect vehicle for the way we will implement math."
Meadow's burgeoning lab was visited Friday by the godfather of the maker movement, Dale Dougherty of Sebastopol.
The founder of Make Magazine and creator of Maker Faire, Dougherty brought Lucia Mar Unified School District Superintendent Jim Hogeboom and two principals from the Arroyo Grande district for a tour of the Meadow maker classroom Friday.
"Formal education needs to learn from informal education," he said.
Kids need to learn to build, break, solve and fail, he said.
"Don't rescue kids from frustration," he said.
Meadow's teachers are on board and nearly 40 parents have volunteered throughout the year to supervise, but not manage, the time spent in the maker lab, Becker said.
And students who may struggle in a traditional classroom setting can shine in the collaborative, creative format of maker labs, she said.
"You have different superstars in here than you do in other classrooms," she said.
(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, email@example.com or on Twitter @benefield.)