Like others, Marquette Elementary School did not wait until it had an official maker space to transform how students spend their library time.

The Madison school’s third through fifth graders participated in “Innovation Stations,” in which they explored science, technology, engineering and math — collectively known by the buzzword acronym STEM — for about half their library time every other week.

On a recent morning, some fourth graders were working with a modular, robotic construction system called Cubelets. Others were using the KEVA Brain Builders toy, which combines wooden blocks, known as KEVA Planks, with challenge cards. Students manipulate the blocks to duplicate the balance, proportion, composition and geometry featured on each card.

Other students had chosen different activities that encouraged problem solving, critical thinking and learning to use the process of trial and error.

“It’s fun to see what happens when you make things,” said fourth-grader Dominica Costanzo. “If you make a mistake, you have to find out how to fix it.”

Marquette library media and technology specialist Maegan Heindel also asked eighth graders, who are members of the FIRST LEGO League at O’Keeffe Middle School, which adjoins Marquette, to give a presentation about how the team competed to solve a set problem. Then the eighth graders stuck around to help the fourth graders at the Innovation Stations.

“I think of libraries as a place for critical thinking,” said Heindel said. “All libraries are constantly evolving in what we offer and how we meet our patrons’ needs.”

Heindel started the Innovation Stations exercise last year with money earned through book fairs and with district funds for maker space activities.

“I like it because it’s kind of creative to do. It’s fun,” fourth-grader Theia Lilja said. “Especially with these (Cubelets), you make whatever you want. There are so many things you can make with Innovation Stations.”

Fourth-grader Jamell Copeland said he likes working with KEVA Planks best and tries to build really tall structures.

“You can build really wild things,” fourth-grader Atticus Bandera said about the wooden blocks.

It’s an example of what schools can do before they have a dedicated maker space. Last week Heindel moved the Innovation Stations activities into the old computer lab off the library. The lab space’s former use became obsolete when the school got enough laptop computers for every student.

The maker space, which has a green screen backdrop for creating videos, is also designed for other staff members to use and will be debuted at an open house for parents this spring. The space has not been named yet.

Heindel also is helping get a new FIRST LEGO League team off the ground and the maker space will be a place for the team to work. Heindel said the team’s activities would serve as an extension of what she’s tried to do with the Innovation Stations.

“We’ve been having Innovation Stations that encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills and this group is a great model of how to do that while working in a team,” Heindel said.

FIRST LEGO League teams research a real-world problem and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology and then compete on a table-top playing field.

“We want to show the younger kids there is an opportunity to learn about robotics and real-world problems,” said eighth-grader Emily Yao about her visit with fourth graders as a member of the LEGO team.