Costume Making Makerspace at Ottumwa

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Joni Nicholson, Ottumwa Teacher-Librarian

How do you get elementary students to come back to school on a beautiful Saturday morning in October? Well,the idea of creating a costume and learning how to use a real sewing machine was just the right combination to get 50 students out of bed and back to school. They were attending a volunteer-run event called “Makerspace” which is part of a movement to get students interested in STEM careers and tap into kids’ creative side. This event was offered to fourth and fifth grade students in the Ottumwa School District.

Elementary teacher-librarians, Joni Nicholson and Stacy Moran have done several Makerspace events using electronic snap kits, Makey Makey computer tools, robots, construction blocks and numerous other STEM related activities in the past. This time the two librarians decided to take a “low tech” approach and invite students to make their own costumes using everyday items and material scraps. A recent Scale-Up STEM grant also gave several of the OCSD sites sewing machines and other tools that made this event even more enticing.

If the thought of school age kids using hot glue guns and sewing machines scares you, rest assured that the two teachers spent a good bit of time talking about safety prior to turning kids loose with these tools. With such a large number of students showing up for this event, extra volunteers (including other teachers and a local high school sorority group) were on hand to assist and supervise the students in this creative endeavor.

Moran and Nicholson both donate their time and many of the materials for their Makerspace. They also asked for material donations prior to the costume making project. Students were given time to look at the materials available as well as some costume ideas from Pinterest prior to digging into their individual projects. One entire room was dedicated to fabric choosing and pattern cutting. Other materials included: cardboard boxes, poster board, yarn, feathers, foil, t-shirts, socks, gloves, etc.

Over two hours of cutting, gluing, trying on and in some cases, starting over, it didn’t take students long to repurpose these items into unbelievable creations. A cardboard box and solo cups helped one girl turn herself into a human Lego block. Another participant made a creepy monster with a 3D hand reaching out of his torso. Capes, angel wings, Pokemon characters, superheroes and emoji faces were all popular costume themes. With such a wide variety of materials, no two projects were alike.

At the end of the session students were allowed to take all of their creations home with them. The best outcome, however, was the lasting impression that students had about this Makerspace session. Several students were very proud of the fact that they had used a sewing machine for the first time ever. Others commented on how much they accomplished with a glue gun. In fact, one boy asked enthusiastically, “Where can I go to buy one of these? I want to do this at home too!” Comments like that are exactly what Stacy Moran and Joni Nicholson like to hear. After all, the goal of the Makerspace is to generate excitement about STEM and bring out the “maker” in all participants.

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