CUYAHOGA FALLS — The students in the Bolich Middle School Media Center were gathered in small groups, each group hovering over a Lego set. They were busy assembling a vehicle out of the interlocking pieces to try to construct the slowest vehicle.

That’s right — the slowest.

Kyle Garrett, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, said the value in constructing a slower vehicle is for more stability "on icy roads, and roads that zig-zag."

"We are making a mix between a snow plow and a cargo truck," added seventh-grader Carmen Romero, 12.

The Sloth Car challenge is sponsored and put together by Lego, said Karen Gedeon, media specialist. The object is for students to "mesh what Lego has sent us with [the students'] own designs."

"They've been working a long time on these," Gedeon said. "They've been working on this for several weeks. It's a real team-building experience."

Gedeon said that earlier this year there was "a big push for MakerSpace" areas, and that a good part of the funding came from the 5-year, 4.95 mill emergency operating levy in November 2017. Money from grants also have contributed to materials for the MakerSpaces.

"A lot of what we have is based on curriculum," Gedeon said. She added that the materials available at each school differ, depending on the age of the students.

There are a variety of materials in the schools' MakerSpaces, Gedeon said.

"There are some teachers who love this space for things like the button maker," Gedeon said. "The health teacher had the students make buttons that encouraged healthy habits."

Another popular activity is using Lego blocks to map out cities, Gedeon said. Teachers also can check out kits that create an Escape Room-style activity, where students have to solve a puzzle using tools and clues to open a series of locks. Students interested in coding can experiment with Makey Makey or littleBits kits. The school also has two 3-D printers.

"Basically, a MakerSpace is a hands-on learning environment," Gedeon said. "There's a ton of stuff out there. We only have a fraction of the stuff available. It's going back to the hands-on that was missing for so long."

Having a place where children and teens can engage in experiments and hands-on learning is critical, Gedeon said.

"We as human beings are tactile creatures," she said. "We have to be creating, we have to be doing. This has been lost because of testing. Now it's coming back."

The concept of a MakerSpace has been around for about a decade, and Bolich has had a space for hands on activities such as crafts for about seven years, Gedeon said.

Principal Ryan Huch said that "our kids have to know how to create things."

"The value is that students can create rather than just consume," Huch said. "So they have a way to solve academic problems."

Anything from Legos to 3-D printers can be used in a MakerSpace, but the key is knowing the intended use of the equipment and materials, Huch said.

"It's not about the tool, it's how it's used," he said. "Before spending money on stuff, find out what you can use it for. Have a purpose."

Huch said that the Cuyahoga Falls schools had the opportunity to talk to those in other districts to get feedback on what they had.

"One thing about going to other districts is they will tell you what doesn't work," Huch said. "They'll tell us 'don't buy this item,' or 'get this sewing machine, it's great, and the software update is fantastic.'"

Jim Marras, director of technology, said that all nine school buildings had MakerSpace materials, with equipment varying depending on the age levels in the buildings. Equipment ranges from button makers and 3D printers to the AutoCAD lab at the high school.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC