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Coral reef crochet ;

How creativity is flowing in the Maker Lab – even during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Lizzie Rushton

School of Education, Communication & Society

08 April 2020

This academic year saw the introduction of a new MA in STEM Education which included creating a new Maker Lab for one of its modules. Dr Lizzie Rushton shares some insights into the course and outlines the importance of making and creating, including during this period of social distancing.

In early 2020, here at the School of Education, Communication & Society (ECS) we established a new maker space within the Waterloo Campus, to support teaching, learning and research into making as part of education in school, university and informal contexts. Maker spaces are relaxed, creative settings where people come to create, invent and make in a range of contexts, for example, textiles, electronics, knitting and crochet, 3D printing and coding.

The use of the Maker Lab, as the space has been named, has been focused on the Making and Creating module that forms part of the MA in STEM Education. Making is an emerging area of interest for supporting engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Researchers from the School are part of a three-year pan-European research project, COM n PLAY, and bring insights from this research to both the Maker Lab and the MA in STEM Education.

Coral reef crochet

The Maker Lab has been equipped with a range of tools and materials to support making. This includes a 3D printer, sewing and embroidery machines, as well as metal working tools, components for electronics (e.g. Microbit, Raspberry Pi) and arts and crafts materials. Many of these resources are widely available and inexpensive. During January and February 2020, students and researchers from ECS used the space to explore making as an educational tool, which very much included hands-on making sessions. Workshops were led by Alex Hadwen-Bennett, Professor Lulu Healey, Dr Heather King and me and included using soldering equipment, e-textiles, paper craft and crochet.

One source of inspiration for exploring the challenges and opportunities posed by making in the context of STEM Education has been the work of Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim and their crochet coral reef, based at the Institute for Figuring.

Through crocheting coral, a range of STEM themes can be explored, including hyperbolic geometry, evolutionary theory, and oceanic pollution and acidification. During teaching and workshop sessions, students explored crocheting coral and discussed the ways in which this and other forms of making might support more young people to engage with aspects of the natural world. Following the class, several students and staff experimented with their own versions of coral reef organisms (pictured).

Due to social distancing guidelines introduced in the UK in March, some people have turned to craft-focused creative activities during leisure time. Crochet requires simple and widely available tools, a crochet hook and some wool, and for those who are beginners or need a refresher, there are a wide range of tutorial videos to support learning the basic steps. Although crochet coral reefs look complex, they only require a few makers to learn three or four basic stitches and in just a few weeks, the Maker Lab coral reef has already become a colourful feature.

Although our making currently cannot continue in the Maker Lab, staff and students have been able to share their makes via video sessions and have been sharing ideas, feedback and inspiration. When we return to the Maker Lab, we will bring a wealth of examples of our makes from home, from paper modelling and e-textiles to crochet coral as a physical reminder of the value of making as a creative and playful approach to learning and teaching in STEM.

Coral reef crochet

In this story

Elizabeth Rushton

Elizabeth Rushton

Former Lecturer in Geography Education

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