This article first appeared as “Kids become creators, not consumers - TechTerra’s STEM makerspace approach nurtures 21st-century learners” in the Pitsco Education Network Magazine, October-November 2016. Reprinted with permission.
ADA, OK – Working for 30 years in public education as a teacher and principal is ample time to build a reputation as an authority on what works and doesn’t work inside and outside the classroom.
So, with that wealth of knowledge and experience in her hip pocket, Susan Wells stepped firmly into the world of technology, STEM, and hands-on learning and started her own company, TechTerra Education, several years ago.
Her goal might be considered lofty by some. “We’re going to change the world,” she said with a tone of conviction. “Really. We’re working on it.” Be skeptical, if you must, but don’t fully doubt her ability to effect change.
It’s through a unique combination of digital tools, nature, science, and technology that Wells travels the world, putting on camps for students and teachers, whom she is preparing for life deep into the 21st century.
“We’ve seen kids begin to be creators, not consumers,” Wells said at the end of a summer camp for teachers in the Pitsco Maker Space Lab at East Central University in Ada, OK, this past summer. The foundation of TechTerra is STEM education, which naturally involves hands-on learning, and that is at the core of any well-designed makerspace.
“It’s hands-on, inquiry-based learning,” Wells said. “They’re putting this stuff in their hands, they’re playing with it, they’re exploring with it, they’re inventing with it. And it’s a totally different experience for them. . . . For four years we’ve run this Camp TechTerra across a number of different settings – private and public schools. It works everywhere with all kids. Kids get so excited and so engaged in this kind of learning.”
As a teacher and principal in North Carolina, Wells witnessed lots of students getting through their education “by jumping through the right hoops,” figuring out the formulas for academic success. But there often wasn’t much depth or meaning in the experience.
“Is that the best we can do in education? Or can we make something that’s really amazing and interesting and personalized for them?” she asked. “We can. We actually can. When the maker movement came out, we had already started an innovation lab. We knew that we had to start looking at kids’ interests. We knew that kids, in fact, have interests, and when they’re interested, they’re engaged.”
As part of the camp at ECU, Wells conducted an open-ended introduction to programming for teachers from elementary through high school. In the new Maker Space Lab in the Department of Education, she found a Pitsco Invention Explore-A-Pak that brought the activity to life. “I’m like, ‘That’s what we need right there, those materials,’” Wells said. “And sure enough, they got them out and you could just see some of the directions people went in with the different materials,” which include dowel rods, spools, basswood, balloons, string, straws, cardboard, and more.