5th Graders Bring HERstory to Life at the 11th Annual Makerfaire

Erin Schwartz
Last weekend, Hillbrook’s 5th grade class traveled to San Mateo, California to share their HERstory projects and learn from their elementary and high school peers professionals in the world of making at the 11th Annual MakerFaire, “the greatest show and tell on Earth.”

This year’s 5th grade class pursued the development of the Hillbrook HERstory project in response to their spring hard problem prompt, a major learning experience in the 5th grade science curriculum. Students worked in groups, selecting and researching a prominent female role model from a designated decade whose life and works they researched and synthesized into unique installation pieces. These mobile museums  utilized mechanics, complex structures, and renewable energy to engage audiences with their figure’s life and prominent accomplishments in a captivating and interactive way. With the collaboration of the middle school history department as well as 8th grade history teacher and Diversity & Inclusivity Coordinator Jules Findlay, the students uncovered and tackled issues of race, gender, sexuality, and classism in this first phase of the project.

The second phase of the project found students creating, measuring, cutting, painting, connecting, welding, and so much more as they transformed their research and observation into mechanical artwork celebrating the accomplishments and stories of their prominent figure including Hillbrook School founder Mary Orem, English chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, Civil Rights Activist Ruby Bridges, American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist Gloria Steinem, prominent Czech and American tennis player and LGBT advocate Martina Navratilova, Harry Potter author JK Rowling, and Mona Hanna Attisha, the doctor who discovered led poisoning in Flint, Michigan, saving millions of lives.
In the third phase, students travelled with their pieces to the MakerFaire, where visitors interacted with these historically-infused installations. Our learners gained real-world experience presenting their research and learning alongside peer projects - including those contributed by high schools students - and against the backdrop of projects and presentations by leaders in making and innovation including Google,  Adam Savage of Mythbusters, Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and MakerFaire, and many more.

“Students see their own intelligence reflected back to them,” shared Christa Flores, 5th grade science teacher, iLab Coordinator, Spring Hard Problem and Makerfaire advisor, and elemental faculty member in developing the philosophy and practice of making at Hillbrook. Flores also works to further interweave intentional making into academic programs across the country and around the world as a Stanford University FabLearn fellow and contributor to the upcoming book on creative, cross-curricular spaces for hands-on student discovery, Meaningful Making. The students’ process and growth throughout the HERstory Project and the culminating presentations at MakerFaire reflect the philosophies shared in the book, including effective and intentional methods of assessment. Portfolios, blogging progress, and peer and self-assessment encouraged our students to continually mold and craft their project throughout the spring.

Student empowerment is at the center of the Hillbrook learning experience and the HERstory endeavor celebrates the perseverance, ingenuity, and collaboration that exemplifies this journey of self-growth. “I can't believe I'm passing the HERstory project with honor....I think that I passed with honor because I went to see Ruby Bridges at San Jose State University,” reflects one of our 5th grade HERstory makers. “Although at the start I had some issues, I pulled through and stuck with my team. I do think by the end of the year I made some improvements and made some very important parts of our project!”

This valuable learning and community share experience culminates the problem-solving, hard work, and hands-on project development of our students, who built original working pieces that integrated elements of Hillbrook’s strong art program including painting and woodworking, the circuitry and robotics of our science and making program, all while also engaged in historical research. Through the process of real-life trial and error, tracking developments and discoveries in product and design reports, and engaging in self-assessments, students brought more than their moving museum to the Makerfaire. They each shared individual choices, innovations, and program designs with the thousands of attendees who enjoy the event each year.

Click here to view photos from the process and presentation at MakerFaire! 

To learn more about MakerFaire, visit http://makerfaire.com/.