PJA’s Makerspace Fosters Creative Thinking and Resiliency 


Photo: PJA fourth-grader Hadley builds a teepee.

Portland Jewish Academy was thrilled to re-introduce the Makerspace to the PJA community this school year. Our new Maker Educator, Nicole Surbaugh, joined PJA’s faculty this fall after working for several years as a science educator at The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Nicole has brought the PJA Makerspace back to life after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

A wide range of skills is taught in the Makerspace. Students build important life skills around collaboration, teamwork, following directions and completing tasks. They build resiliency and perseverance through experimentation, risk-taking and learning from failure. And, of course, they develop creative thinking skills as they challenge themselves to design and build a variety of different projects.

Students in first through fifth grades visit the Makerspace on a regular basis to tackle design and engineering challenges. Students in all grade levels also visit the Makerspace to extend their classroom learning and incorporate STEM concepts (science, technology, engineering, math) into other parts of the school program.

First grade has been practicing working together, taking turns, and safely using the tools and materials in the space. Second grade will be visiting the Makerspace to build artifacts as part of their units of study on the Amazon Rainforest and Ancient Egypt. As part of a school-wide community-building effort, third grade is forming the PJA Postal Service. Third grade students will be building mailboxes for each classroom. Fourth graders are working on an egg drop challenge to extend their learning about forces and motion. They can’t wait to test them after winter break! Fifth grade students recently used the Glowforge laser printer to create signs that identify the variety of plants in PJA’s native plants garden. Middle school students are invited to use the Makerspace during recess. Additional opportunities for middle school students to create in the Makerspace will be introduced throughout the year, including welcoming a group of students to explore tefillah (prayer) through the act of making.

Teachers and students look forward to many more opportunities to use this special classroom to challenge themselves to think for themselves and work for the world.



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