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New UW Program Targets Hands-On Learning

February 10, 2015
three people at a table looking at colored patterns in the middle of the table
From left, Tonia Dousay, UW assistant professor of professional studies in the College of Education, works with UW Lab School students Kaitlyn Lewis and Ruby Slyman on a design project in a new program called WyoMakers. WyoMakers provides a variety of tools, software and equipment -- including work stations and a three-dimensional printer -- to foster engagement in hands-on learning activities for students of all ages. (UW Photo)

New opportunities to engage students in creative projects drawing on design and problem-solving skills have been opened at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education as a result of a new program called WyoMakers.

Part of the global “maker” movement, WyoMakers provides a variety of tools, software and equipment -- including work stations and a three-dimensional printer -- to foster engagement in hands-on learning activities for students of all ages.

The launch of WyoMakers brings virtually endless potential for creating new avenues to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as design concepts, says Tonia Dousay, assistant professor of professional studies and the program’s founder.

Word spread quickly after its launch in October, with interest high across campus and in the community. Already several projects are underway, including a design elective offered to students in the UW Lab School.

Eleven Lab School students will partner with UW undergraduates enrolled in a family and consumer science textiles course to create garments that the program participants will wear in the department’s annual fashion show. Lab School students will design the patterns for the fabrics. Textiles course students will print the fabrics and work with their younger partners to design the clothing that will be modeled at the show.

At the center of the learning experience for the Lab School students is application of core academic skills.

“They’re going to be thinking about math and science concepts without realizing it,” Dousay says.

A similar hands-on approach is the basis for another early WyoMakers project, led by Dousay and Laramie Junior High School teacher Heath Brown. Students in Brown’s engineering elective course will design boats using conventional materials such as cardboard and foil. They will then come to campus to create prototypes on the WyoMakers 3D printer and test performance under different circumstances. Student designers will adjust their original designs based upon what they learn from the prototype test.

“They’re getting this applied, hands-on piece of their math and science, and they’re having fun,” Dousay says. “At the end, their teacher can help them with connecting the dots with what they did to their other subjects.”

WyoMakers offers myriad opportunities for College of Education students and faculty members as well. “Makerspace” concepts will dovetail with existing hands-on design projects in Dousay’s “Teaching with Technology” courses. Graduate students will be involved in supporting WyoMakers projects, including documenting and sharing activity details and research.

The existence of WyoMakers also introduces new space for College of Education faculty members -- especially those who teach content methods courses in the teacher education program -- to explore new applications and activities that they in turn can introduce to students.

Sharing knowledge will be a core function of the WyoMakers team. Graduate students and other participants will document each activity -- including capturing lesson plan steps, examples and photo/video evidence -- for sharing on the Wyoming Scholars Repository, an open-source clearinghouse managed by UW Libraries. Teachers will be able to access those plans for use in their own classrooms.

Dousay is using proceeds from her two-year Mary Ellbogen Garland Early Career Fellowship to provide start-up funding for the WyoMakers project.

“None of this would be possible without the fellowship,” she says. The Garland Fellowship allows her to demonstrate WyoMakers’ impact that, in turn, increases the potential to obtain larger grants to sustain and expand the project in the future.

Creating a makerspace at UW wasn’t an original career goal for Dousay, but the perfect fit to her design background and career direction made establishing WyoMakers a logical choice.

“That’s the centerpiece,” she says of the makerspace concept and its fit to her professional goals. “You’re problem solving and you’re designing. I thought, ‘OK, this is where my work needs to be.’”

Dousay’s short-term agenda includes promoting WyoMakers across campus and in K-12 schools across Wyoming. She plans to spotlight projects by her students at a makerspace “makerfaire” in Teton County later this year. She also will travel to Jackson in March, to discuss robotics and programming in the classroom, at a UW-sponsored Saturday University event.

What is the full potential of WyoMakers? Dousay describes it as virtually limitless.

“We have a facility that has equipment and software and tools -- and it’s just a matter of, ‘What can you envision with this space?’”

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