A buzz spreading around Palestine’s Northside Primary about the makerspace, a new activity next to the science lab, has grabbed the attention of most of school’s 500 students.

Northside Primary students are entering a zone without high-tech gadgets that, instead, allows their imaginations to soar.

Northside is the only campus in East Texas with a makerspace — a real space where kids can build projects based on their own ideas.

In April, Kayla Pritchett’s first-grade class built arcade games from nothing but simple cardboard boxes and a few craft items. Science teacher Susan Quarles gave the kids an idea and a few guidelines and suggestions. The rest was up to them.

Science teacher Sherryl Quarles introduced the idea of building arcade games by discussing a video. She instructed each small group of students to pick a theme for their game . With a few rules and a little coaching from their teachers – called project managers – students had to state their ideas and come to a consensus with their peers.

A group of four boys designed a game call Miniball. They talked excitedly about its many possibilities. Each boy demonstrated by throwing a ball into a hoop, which returned to an opening in the front.

Kyng Holloway, 7, said he played a basketball game at Dogwood Junction, an arcade in Palestine. They called it Miniball because It’s like the son of a basketball game, he said.

Leonardo Ramirez, 7, said students placed a row of cups in front of the hoop, “like a row of people standing in the way” to make the game harder.

Josue Chavez, also 7, said he enjoyed using teamwork.

Another group called their game Cloudyland. A player moves a character across a path, keeping it from touching yarn strung across either side. The group said they adapted it from the Candyland theme, decorating it with cotton balls and feathers, instead of candy.

The game’s simplicity is striking. In the students’ minds, however, it takes on a life of its own.

“I think it’s really fun, and (people) will want to play it all day,” Jackie Ramirez, 7, said.

Quarels first saw a makerspace at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s world-famous science museum for kids. After hearing about other schools using makerspaces, she wondered if the storage room next to the science lab might become something more.

After a little time, it did.

After setting up the room, Quarles invited two first-grade classes to the makerspace once a month, in place of their science lab. The first-grade students had already made sufficient progress in the science curriculum. From a teacher’s standpoint, they could take time to dabble in the makerspace.

Educators say makerspaces develops important skills — collaborating, imagining, negotiating, and problem-solving, to name a few. Kids also learn self-control, self-regulation, and use of fine motor skills.

Donna Holt and Rhonda Lemon, two education experts from the Region 6 Education Service Center in Kilgore, came to Palestine recently to observe. They had heard about makerspaces, but not in East Texas. Region 6 is an education co-op that provides continuing education and leadership resources to area schools.

Quarles is impressed with the variety of the students’ ideas.

More important than the skills they learn or the projects they build, the kids gain a sense of accomplishment, which helps them learn patience in tackling projects.

“It’s about giving kids choice,” said Larissa Loveless, a former teacher and principal who now serves as spokesperson for the Palestine Independent School District.

“That’s how I learned as a child. I had to get my hands on it.”