Leonardo’s Workshop


Leonardo’s Workshop: Our Makerspace in the Art Room!

Leonardo’s Workshop started the fall of 2016. Over the years, our school has been a leader in the arts integration and prairie reclamation movements in the Chicago area.  Last spring, our administration and Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) added STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) to our Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP) to enhance our educational goals for the upcoming school year. With the support of our administration, Waters Today (our community fundraising group) and grant monies from Education Closet we have been able to establish our school’s first Makerspace in our art room. Leonardo’s Workshop is our art room’s Makerspace that supports STEAM initiatives and celebrates student ownership of  learning.

Check out Chicago’s Northside Mini Maker Faire’s Leonardo’s Workshop feature here: http://chicagonorthside.makerfaire.com/2017/05/03/meet-maker-leonardos-workshop/

What is Leonardo’s Workshop?

Leonardo’s Workshop or the Maker Movement is not just about a cool space or a bunch of fancy stuff. It’s a mindset—trusting children’s desire to imagine and create. As teachers and students, we need a bit of structure and that’s where design thinking makes a difference. LAUNCHing takes it out of the hands of the teacher. The authentic audience is the jury and judge. Let go and enjoy it!

We practice Design Thinking, Genius Hour and 20% Time as we experience, explore, experiment and express with new and renewed media, materials and tools including dremels, wood burners, hammers, saws, circuits, 3D carvers, 3D pens, Google Cardboard VR viewers, kinetic sand, monkey foam, Legos, perler beads, jewelry making, Polaroids, sunprints and Maker ice cream…just to list a few of our Leonardo’s Workshop design challenges this year…:)

Leonardo’s Workshop is:

1) a practice of Genius Hour and design thinking in the art room’s curriculum where students spend 20% of their experience pursuing their own ideas/challenges

2) a Makerspace in the art room equipped with a variety of choice-based art, construction and technological media and tools—from hammers to sewing machines to printmaking materials to 3D pens to laser cutters to a 3D carver

3) an after-school Maker camp where students explore the connections between art and science and expand concepts of creativity in addition to acting as a laboratory to test innovative ideas for the classroom

Leonardo’s Workshop’s mission is to create intellectual and physical space for students to direct their own creativity and to pursue their own interests. Leonardo’s Workshop Maker Camp is an intensive after school laboratory that uses design thinking in a variety of cross-disciplinary challenges to experiment, experience, explore and express.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a process that can be adapted to any curriculum or learning activity. It is a way for us to approach a challenge to work through errors, alternative options and celebrations in a framework that appreciates “successes” and “failures” equally. To learn more about design thinking, please check out


What is Leonardo’s Workshop Maker Camp?

Leonardo’s Workshop Maker Camp is a laboratory for students and their teacher—it is constantly evolving. Overall, we are looking at what is means to be a Maker. We learn a lot about Leonardo da Vinci’s ability to look at everything and anything creatively and we go from there. We are doing a lot of exploration of circuits and conductivity. We like paint, magnets and hammers… Students are learning how to saw and drill but we don’t have a set curriculum yet… Making our own ice cream and root beer has been a fan favorite…Our favorite books are The Most Magnificent Thing (Ashley Spires) and Mistakes That Worked (Charlotte Foltz Jones)…

In our first year, over 45 3-5 grade students experienced 10 week Maker Camp experiences—creating drawing robots, Maker circuit villages, conductive gloves, marble runs and motor boats.  In our second year we had over 75 students participating in both TYROS (beginner) and VETS (2nd year) sessions.  We even had a Super VETS club of 10 students who have participated in every Leonardo’s Workshop offered—BRAVO! (We’re thinking about ULTRA Vets this year!) At the end of last school year, we conducted a 3 week Maker Mini-Camp with the support of Columbia College’s Scientists for Tomorrow Advanced Robotics curriculum and Liam S., a high school student facilitator. Students created a robot that could move using an Arduino board and Ardublocks coding language. (I’m not there YET—I just watched Liam and the kids go at it:)!) Many thanks to Ismaias—our 2016-2017 Leonardo’s Workshop mentor and Max, our 2017-2018 mentor!

A typical Maker camp session—

Leonardo da Vinci/Art History/Literacy Connection

Design Thinking Studio: Experimentation/Engineering/Exploration/Expression

LAUNCH: Gallery Walk/Discussion

da Vinci Notebook (Journal/Documentation)

Global Cardboard Design Challenge

October 2016: Our first all-school/all family cardboard challenge was a huge success.We patterned our day on the experience of Caine’s Arcade. Check out our inspiration http://cainesarcade.com/and our amazing designs!

Global Day of Design: Locomotion

April 2017: Our second all-school/all family cardboard challenge focused on A.J Juliani and Jon Spencer’s global design challenge initiative. We asked students to demonstrate locomotion in their cardboard designs. This was a tremendous family event that showed the evolution of design ideas in just a few months. We are excited to see our next cardboard challenge!

Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

We LAUNCHED (http://thelaunchcycle.com/) our Leonardo’s Workshop Maker Camp experience at Chicago’s only Maker Faire! We enjoyed sharing our learning with K-12 students throughout the Northside area. We showcased our marble runs, drawing robots and Maker villages. We also taught a variety of peers how circuits create energy—light, motion and sound by demonstrating our circuit constructions.

Maker & STEAM  Online Resources

Recently, Leonardo’s Workshop was featured in Education Closet’s spring online conference. It was great fun sharing our Makerspace experience with numerous educators from around the country. We also shared our Global Cardboard Challenge Gallery Walk designs. If you would like to learn more about the educational theory and implementation of Makerspaces, Design Thinking, STEAM Initiatives  and Choice-based Studios in the Art Room—Education Closet https://educationcloset.com/has fabulous resources.

Maker & STEAM Book List


The Most Magnificent Thing, Ashley Spires

What Do You Do With An Idea?, Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With A Problem?, Kobi Yamada

Violet the Pilot, Steve Breen

Not A Box, Antoinette Portis

Not A Stick, Antoinette Portis

A Box Story, Kenneth Kit Lemug

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci, Gene Baretta

The OK Book, Amy Kraus Rosenthal

It’s Ok To Make Mistakes, Todd Parr

Interstellar Cinderella, Deborah Underwood

Going Places, Paul Reynolds

Rosie Revere, Engineer, Andrea Beaty

Iggy Peck, Architect, Andrea Beaty


Empower, Jon Spencer & A.J. Juliani

Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student, Jon Spencer & A.J. Juliani

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith


The Art of Cardboard, Lori Zimmer

The Cardboard Box Book, Sarah Powell

Cardboard Creatures, Claude Jeantet


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