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About 15 sixth-grade students in Longfellow Middle School library gathered around blob-shaped tables and sat on bright blue and green chairs during their lunch period Tuesday, May 24.

The library, which was renovated before the beginning of the current school year to include extra space, new furniture and deep blue shelves stocking hundreds of books, is about to get another new addition come this fall, said librarian Tracy Eccles.

Thanks to a $17,200 grant from the Education Foundation of Wauwatosa, every school library in the Wauwatosa School District will be equipped with a 'makerspace' for the 2016-17 school year. The innovative spaces give students access to materials and supplies that foster creativity, Eccles said. Through the spaces, students can inquire, create, collaborate, tinker, mentor, experiment, invent and solve problems.

Makerspaces are popping up around the country, said Eccles, and devoting areas of libraries to the cause is part of a greater push across the education system for group work and project-based learning.

'It gives them opportunities outside of the traditional classroom,' Eccles said of makerspaces. 'It's free and available to every child.'

EFW President Mary Phillips said the chance to affect every student in the school district with the grant money was what initially drew the board to the proposal.

'This is really, more or less, a pilot program,' she said, adding the foundation hasn't funded such a project in the past. 'There's nothing like this in our schools right now.'

On Tuesday, the students voluntarily gave up their recess time to participate in a five-minute special design challenge that used paper clips, tape, scissors and paper to create the tallest structure possible. The activity served as a teaser of what's to come this fall, said Eccles.

Students worked individually or in teams to create their structures. Some taped the straws to a base made from paper, while others used paper clips to layer paper with straw in a tall, vertical line.

'They're each so unique and different,' Eccles said.

When the five minutes was up, Eccles helped the students score their own designs. Points were allotted based on how many inches tall the structures stood and for how many seconds they remained upright before tipping over.

Student C.J. Hagan said he chose to give up his recess time and stop by the design challenge because he hopes to someday follow in his brother's footsteps and pursue an architecture degree at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

'It was challenging,' Hagan said of the project. 'But I focused more on how sturdy the structure was instead of how tall I made it.'

Added sixth-grader Sydney Wilkens, who said she'll use the makerspace during the next school year: 'I thought it was fun.'

The spaces will include a wide assortment of projects, said Eccles. Students can learn how to knit or crochet, participate in robotics or web coding, or use coloring books. Makerspaces will include more complex materials appropriate for higher grade levels, she said.

Some teachers have already expressed interest in incorporating the spaces into their lesson plans. Eccles said she plans to hold a number of challenges throughout the school year to help draw the students to the library and explore the new materials.

While the available space is already in each library, the materials are funded by EFW, said Eccles.

'None of this could have been possible without the support from EFW,' she said. 'We are so thankful.'

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