Pali High Students Are Learning Innovative Methods Through Teacher’s Online Class
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Thinking on your feet and using resources available to you—what is trash to some people is treasure to others. That is the idea behind the Makerspace class and Maker Education program, revitalized at Palisades Charter High School by teacher Jamie Agius.
Agius teaches a hands-on program—which has now had to pivot with distance learning in place—that provides students the freedom to pick their own projects.
Pali High had a Makerspace curriculum under Donna Mandosa, but it was discontinued when she left in 2014. Agius, a science teacher, decided she wanted to bring it back, subsequently applied for the position and got it in 2019.
“I do consider myself a maker and part of the maker movement,” Agius explained. “I’ve been one my whole life, ever since I can remember. I grew up in the garage with Dad, and I’ve been sewing since I was 13.”
Agius shared that her dining room table is now her makerspace in her two-bedroom apartment.
“It’s really all about a whole community of people called ‘makers,’” she continued. “The idea is about the democratization of equipment and tools and materials normally people wouldn’t have access to. The purpose of the class is for kids to learn to use their hands and for them to have an authentic pursuit of knowledge.”
Makerspace is for students to experiment and explore, but it also challenges Agius to be more flexible in her thinking, as well as to teach with resilience and persistence. She teaches six classes per day with about 180 students (30 in each class) in disciplines such as woodworking, electronics and sewing.
“It’s the most labor-intensive thing I’ve ever done in my entire life because it’s all student choice,” she said. “On any given day there’ll be 30 kids working on 30 different things—and having a blast. There’s an academic component to it where they have to be able to identify and articulate the skills they are learning, put together digital portfolios and have documentation of products they’re making.”
This is the second year of Agius building the program, which she shared had “absolutely no budget” when she started.
“I got some funding to purchase things from the community and from the parents,” she recalled. “It’s through their generosity that I’ve been able to keep it going.”
The artifacts students make are their own choice but they have been tasked with finding things around their houses to work with. The first project this semester was 3D paper engineering folding and cutting, using origami or regular paper.
One of the latest projects was themed “Old from New,” in which Agius encouraged students to look at things from a different perspective—to use items like an empty mayonnaise jar or a discarded soup can.
“One of my students just recently made a lamp out of plastic spoons that were spray-painted yellow to look like a pineapple,” said Agius, who lives in Palms. “We Zoom every day, we have conversations, and the goal is for them to create inventive and innovative things. I have to give a shout out to the families who are helping them—moms, dad, aunts, uncles, older brothers and sisters—teaching them how use the tools.”
Agius has three classes consisting entirely of ninth-graders (part of the school’s Maker pod) and three classes mainly made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors. It is a UC-approved elective that counts toward a computer or a technology credit.
Last year, Agius taught five Makerspace classes, but she has added one this year due to the high demand.
Now in her early 40s, Agius did not start her career in education until she was 34 when she became a science teacher at Pali High. She is now in her seventh year at the school—the last two running the Makerspace program.
Prior to teaching, she was a marketing director for a record label, worked for a booking agency and was sole proprietor of a small business. She is originally from Michigan, but moved to Orange County in fourth grade. She attended El Dorado High in Placentia.
After finishing her GE requirements at a community college, she went to UC Irvine for her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and teaching credential. When she decided she wanted to teach there was only one place she really wanted to go.
“I applied all over but Pali was my first choice,” she said. “It was a no-brainer. It was definitely where I wanted to be.”
Not only is she happy to be at Palisades, so too are her students.
Follow the program through its Facebook page at facebook.com/PCHSMakers.
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