With Two On-Campus Maker Spaces, Point Park University's School of Education Builds Meaningful Classroom Experiences
"Having two maker spaces at Point Park is wonderful. It has given me so many tools to build lesson plans that are more creative than the ones I've done before. It has also helped me become more prepared for my career."
Anytime Sarah Rock '25 uses a maker space activity in her lesson plans, her students "glow with curiosity and excitement to learn."
Sarah Rock '25. Photo by Randall Coleman.
"With maker activities, I can create a classroom environment where students can make mistakes and learn from them instead of being told there is only one way or answer to do something," said Rock, an alumna of Moon Area High School who has completed multiple field experiences in local classrooms. "Our professors teach us to always tell our students, 'Yes, and?' and never, 'That will never work because...' or 'That does not make any sense, do this instead.' We are trained to encourage our students to explore and know that there is no such thing as failure – only learning opportunities."
Rock and other students in Point Park University's School of Education have the opportunity to practice this creativity-forward, solutions-focused mindset on campus in Point Park's two maker space classrooms – colorful hubs of low-tech and high-tech tools where students can practice modern teaching approaches related to STEM, STREAM and maker education.
"Point Park's education degree programs are always growing with the teaching profession and staying as current as possible, which is incredibly important when preparing to teach a class," said Rock, who is majoring in elementary education and seeking special education certification. "The maker spaces present amazing opportunities for our learning and training."
'Truly ahead of the game'
Point Park opened its first Matt's Maker Space Lab in 2021 and followed it up with Matt's Maker Space Too in the fall. The second classroom is outfitted with a sink, adding to the possibilities for students' lesson plans and assignments.
Both classrooms were made possible by Matt's Maker Space, a nonprofit organization founded by Noelle and David Conover in 2018 in memory of their son, Matt, who passed away from cancer at age 12. The organization seeks to inspire a new generation of creative, collaborative and experiential learners through STEAM-focused programming, funding the creation of maker space classrooms throughout the region.
"When I visit K-12 schools, it is clear that most teachers have not learned in a maker space environment," said Noelle Conover. "They are not comfortable with facilitation, experiential learning and project-based education. Most are tossed into a STEAM classroom and forced to sink or swim. Professional development is at the forefront of maker learning. We must provide a solid basis and understanding of key concepts for our teachers if they are to lead children in exploration and STEAM learning."
Point Park was the first university to open a Matt's Maker Space Lab.
"Working with Point Park's School of Education and professors Darlene Marnich, Virginia Chambers and Kamryn York has been a true delight," she said. "These professors are true innovators. What Point Park's School of Education has designed – offering pre-service teachers the opportunity to learn in a maker space environment – is truly ahead of the game and so needed. It is also a key differentiator in the education that these students receive. Few schools in the area offer this!"
'Application and action'
The learning that happens inside Point Park's maker space classrooms is just the beginning of students' education. Through faculty's connections to a variety of schools and educational institutions in the area, students take their maker space lessons into real, local classrooms. A $281,830 grant from the National Science Foundation to support Point Park's research and implementation of maker and STEM education has created more opportunities for students to flex their evolving teaching skills.
"Having two maker spaces at Point Park is wonderful," said Anani Debose '25, an elementary education major and alumna of Mount Mercy Academy. "It has given me so many tools to build lesson plans that are more creative than ones I've done before. It has also helped me become more prepared for my career."
Debose was among a group of students who facilitated a "STEM Day" at Jefferson Elementary in Mt. Lebanon School District. Point Park students worked together to present maker-focused lessons to students, fusing literacy and mathematics concepts.
"They created some of the coolest things, and even though I didn’t know them too well, I got to know them through the crafts they created and what made each of them unique," Debose said. "One of the moments that showed me the benefits of maker education was when I presented a poem and had students do a related activity. After doing the activity, they were using the words in the poem to describe their artwork. It was so wonderful hearing them use all the new words they learned. The students were very engaged in the lesson and loved the activity."
Brett Bielewicz, principal of Jefferson Elementary and a student in Point Park's Leadership and Administration doctoral program, joined in on the STEM Day fun, too.
"I have most enjoyed our partnership with Point Park for their faculty's leadership in the field of education," he said. "Collaborating with them provides access to current research, new practices and innovative ideas. It is valuable for all members of our school community and creates a continuum of effective teachers and learning for our students and staff."
Bielewicz said Point Park's approach to teacher preparation is rooted in exposing students at the earliest stages to real-world academic settings.
"This approach makes the learning that occurs in coursework and conversation a reality in application and action," he said. "The ongoing discourse with supervising teachers and professors allows for tailored courses that are most responsive to the demands of what we see each and every day with our students, families and teachers."
Nicole Bilodeau is a teacher at Jefferson Elementary and praised the STEM Day collaboration for creating a dynamic environment that fosters innovation, skill development and real-world problem-solving for elementary students. She is also pursuing her doctoral degree in Point Park's Leadership and Administration program.
"I chose Point Park because I am committed to continuous learning and professional development," she said. "The Ed.D. program offers an opportunity to engage in advanced coursework, collaborate with experts in the field and stay current with the latest educational research and practices. By pursuing a doctorate in education, I will develop the skills and knowledge needed to implement effective educational practices, assess learning outcomes and ultimately contribute to student success."
For another field experience, Point Park students majoring in 4th-8th grade education facilitated a STEM Day at Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8, presenting physical science lessons in the school's gymnasium to students in grades 3 and 4. Rock worked with classmate Elizabeth Schrim '24 to present a lesson on sound, teaching students about various instruments and the science behind them.
"I can remember all of my field experiences I have ever done," Rock said. "The students in the classes just stick with you, and the experiences you learn from them are something that you can never forget. Being in the classroom for pre-service teachers is the best experience you will get before student teaching. You see students on good days, bad days and everything in between. Being able to ask teachers questions and gain some of their knowledge of the profession is extremely beneficial."
'An outstanding place to be'
Aside from hands-on learning in the classroom and experiential learning in the field, School of Education faculty invite educators from their professional networks into their classrooms, further enhancing students' coursework.
Recently, teachers Graig Marx and Dave Piemme of Winchester Thurston School came to campus to facilitate a Maker Day with Point Park students. With four 3D printers in tow, they worked with students on collaborative activities focused on TinkerCAD and 3D printing. At the end of the day, they generously donated all four 3D printers to Point Park's maker space classrooms on behalf of Design to Make a Difference through a Grable Foundation-funded grant, adding to the cache of tools students can access as they explore methods of teaching STEM and STREAM.
"Point Park's education degree programs prepare you in all aspects of being a teacher," Rock said. "You learn and incorporate ways to support your students no matter what background, you learn how to create engaging and inventive lessons and your professors want you to succeed. Each professor is going to encourage and support you throughout your education journey. You are always going to be a familiar face - you are not in a crowd of 30+ kids in a class. Your professors will know your potential, and you will create a great rapport with them."
"Point Park's School of Education is an outstanding place to be."
Read more about Point Park's School of Education:
- Education Majors Studying Special Education Gain Hands-On Travel Instruction Experience Through Partnership with the Pathfinder School
- School of Education Students Gain Classroom Experience Through Faculty's Maker, STEM Research
- Get Career-Ready with: Olivia Lehman '25, 4th-8th Grade Science Education Major
- Get Career-Ready with: Ava Cook '24, Elementary Education Major
More About: elementary education, success story, School of Education, secondary education, Downtown Pittsburgh, education, special education, early childhood education, faculty, Ed.D. in leadership and administration, Moon Area High School, Pittsburgh