Makers lab teaches 21st century skills


by Annabella Martinson, 12, and Liam Ulland-Joy, 11, with contributions by Angel O’Connor, 16, and Anja McBride, 11.

Eureka! Most inventions start with a “light bulb” moment, a spark of an idea. Marquette Senior High School science teacher, Rebecca Simmons, said the new Makerspace lab at MSHS was created because of a vision she and her students in the MSHS Makers Club had.

“We started out, just an after school club and our pretty small group, just working on 3D printing. There’s a lot of places across the country that are starting to open up spaces where students can come use unique technology that they can’t get in other places, so we decided we wanted to have a space like that here,” Simmons said. “We did write a couple grants for that which were unsuccessful, but were great for helping us figure things out. The community actually supported a proposal that we had, so we got some money from the community to make it happen this year, so it’s been something we have been working on for about three years.”

The Makerspace officially opened in October, which is when Simmons became the director of the Makerspace. The Makerspace lab is now a fully functioning facility that Simmons said is ready for use by MSHS students.

“This year we have one class in the space because it was new and it wasn’t ready at the beginning of the school year,” Simmons said.

Currently, one class, Science For Inventors, is offered as an elective to students in 10th through 12th grade.

“We work on all the skills you would need to maybe become an inventor, to get a prototype of a product and market your product…. those sorts of things,” Simmons said.

Next year, the lab will also host Art for Makers, an art class that will be based out of the space, and Advanced Preparation Computer Science.

Most kids don’t have 3D printers in their houses, but in the Makerspace, they have access to almost a dozen. Simmons explained that one of the greatest advantages of the Makerspace is allowing kids accessibility to technology and the tools to create and invent.

“We have quite a few computers to start with and most of our district has Chromebooks or iPads, but these computers have some software loaded on to them that makes them a little nicer for doing 3D design and those sorts of things,” Simmons said. “That’s probably one of the main reasons that the students come in. They can work on video on these computers and they can also work on 3D designs. That’s probably the most common use. We do have a set of iPads and we do some design with those. We have SPRK+, which is a little circle robot that we drive around and program. We have nine 3D printers. That is probably the biggest draw for most of our students. They want to 3D print and 3D design. We have a desktop CNC. We’ve got a sewing machine. We’ve got what are called SparkFun Inventor Kits so they can learn basic circuitry. We have tons of micro controllers, Raspberry Pi’s, hand tools, tons of things. A lot of kids come in to solder something or physically make something. We have tons of art supplies and so really we have a ton of different things, depending on what you want to work on. ”

Matthew Schlenkert, a sophomore at MSHS, said the Makerspace has encouraged his curiosity and made him look further into things he wouldn’t have before. Schlenkert said having access to the lab has its advantages.

“It is fun and relaxing and it’s really lenient on the projects,” he said. “All we have to do is just get something like a goal and it doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Schlenkert would recommend the Makerspace to other MSHS students because the Makerspace creates more possibilities.

“It gives you further opportunities to do different projects and it makes it easier to do projects that you would normally have to do on Chromebook or on an iPad,” Schlenkert said.

The project Schlenkert is currently working on certainly is unique.

“We are making a prosthetic arm that will slide over our hands and arms, that way we can’t use our hand…. we have to pick-up a ball and throw it,” he said.

Not only does the Makerspace provide access to some pretty expensive equipment, but it also gives students a comfortable place to collaborate and talk to each other. The space is equipped with comfortable tables and chairs and features glass boards so students can write up an idea and talk through solutions. The space also has several televisions students can use for group projects or presentations.

The Makerspace not only changes how students interact and communicate with each other, but it also changes how Simmons teaches.

“It gives me a really different place to teach science. I think traditionally, most of our science classes are more getting information, maybe doing some labs and answering some questions, but this space I’ve forced kids to think about things; to create and solve problems on their own and usually it’s a unique problem where they actually are making something,” Simmons said. “It’s pretty rare to take time in our mainstream science classes to create products or troubleshoot designs or have design competitions. That sort of thing is not very common in a traditional class so it gives us a chance to play with some of those unique things and also gives us a place to practice some engineering.”

The Makerspace lab at MSHS grew from an idea to reality in about three years’ time, and as it is with most large projects, Simmons said the going wasn’t always easy.

“I think probably the biggest lesson is just not to quit. We hit a lot of walls in making this space. It’s almost a $200,000 facility now, so it took us a long time to secure that type of funding, to get people to even understand what we are trying to do,” Simmons said. “I probably spent about a year with just that piece—trying to get people to understand what my vision was for the place. I think my biggest life lesson is if you want something, don’t quit, just keep pushing till you get it. We would like to grow the space further, so we are still pushing that envelope to reach the next level.”

The MSHS Makerspace is not strictly for classroom or student use. The plan is to encourage students who do not have a class in the Makerspace to come in and take advantage of the space and to eventually expand operational hours.

“We also have the MSHS Makers meet here every Tuesday at lunch so we meet during the freshman and the 10th through12th grade lunches. We have about 25 students that are involved with that club, and then every Thursday after school from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. the place is open to the public. It is open for really anyone to come in. We’re looking to expand some of those hours and offer later evening times so we can start to get younger kids.”

Simmons said they are looking for financial allies that would help to continue the Makerspace because the biggest challenge yet will be sustaining the space long-term.

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