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T³: A makerspace in your school?

The case for formalizing free exploration opportunities

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Don't worry, I'll be back on the blog with updates on my current project but today I wanted to draw attention to the work that our education, sales and marketing folks have been doing to demystify "maker" culture for educators.


I don't have a formal education in electrical engineering (a fact many of you find painfully obvious). In fact, much of my educational background is unconventional. I attended public schools but was able to pursue a wide range of elective subjects, often arguing with counselors and rearranging my schedule to take on less conventional combinations. I wasn't an "advanced placement" student, or even a particularly good academic-level student. I was training to fly planes in high school and my most effective studying took place in a Beechcraft C23 Sundowner which, for a person who didn't have a driver's license, was a thorough distraction from academia. But, access to classes such as metal shop, musical theater, painting and technology (and, most crucially, the combination thereof) helped me develop a skill set that eventually defined my professional life.

Often, the difference between these elective classes and my core curriculum was more than just subject matter. Elective classes, not beholden to any rigid standards, tended to allow much more free exploration. This free exploration time was huge during that time when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, a lot of my free exploration was not officially sanctioned. I made deals with teachers, skipped classes and generally played cat and mouse with the administration. For a teenager like myself, that came naturally, but I knew a lot of people who didn't want to scheme their way around campus. That's why it's so important to formalize free exploration in school, and the most effective tool for doing that in a way that supports the core curriculum is with a makerspace. If you're having trouble getting started, check out our white paper on the subject!

What was your experience like in school? Did you take shop classes? Did your theater teachers let you skip class to build sets? Does your school have a makerspace or some other type of lab for free exploration? I want to know how things have changed, both before my entry into the educational system and after my graduation! Let's discuss!


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  • Our local Middle School built a Makerspace that is for the kids during the day and for the community after school hours. Once the kids leave, community members can swipe their makerspace badges and access all the equipment for their projects. The cool thing is that the adult members pay a small monthly fee to be a member, which is used to purchase, update and maintain the equipment that everyone, including the kids in class, use. It has been a HUGE win/win for the community and the kids.

    Here is a video about our space: https://youtu.be/L0glo7P66Dw

    Here is an article that was recently published about our space: http://www.concordmonitor.com/granite-geek-amherst-nh-makerspace-4264617

    We have also been on our local NPR station: http://nhpr.org/post/granite-geek-makerspace-amherst-middle-school

    Here is another article, however they do have a pay wall: http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/1084263-469/makerspace-opening-in-amherst.html

    We have been purchasing from SparkFun for equipment for classes and space management. (Thanks Guys!)

  • While attending middle school/high school in the early 80's classes were available in drafting, wood shop, metal shop, auto repair, home economics and electronics. I remember making my very first PCB and learning how to use an oscilloscope. Everything I learned in those classes has stuck with me throughout my life, even more so than college classes. It's really disheartening that so many of those classes have been phased out.

    At my oldest son's school here in Lafayette, CO (Angevine Middle School- my wife also teaches there) they have an engineering shop class. The kids are doing some really neat projects. Last year I believe they were working on a prosthetic leg for a staff member and were 3D printing several of the components. They're still in need of equipment for the class but I got them a laser cutter for this year- the class teacher was pretty excited about that. :)

  • I think that the educational process in most countries and especially here in the USA is degree oriented, go to school, get the paper, get out. My personal educational meandering has always (50 years post high school) been about acquiring knowledge, information, and skills. I found that despite having a college major of engineering that most of my classes were about everything else. I never did find a major in "jack of all trades" but somehow I muddled through some formal education but my real education came primarily from books, experiments, and observation. I worked with some extremely gifted scientists and engineers in my many years with IBM Research and Development, but I often found it was difficult for them to implement their ideas as their core focus did not allow them the opportunity to learn many practical subjects. There is nothing wrong with, nor any problem with having "other" skills. Following one's bliss makes, I think, for a happier life.

  • Interesting topic, Nick!

    Back in the day (mid-70's), if you wanted to do anything "maker-like" in West Texas your choice was basically shop class. I was in wood shop middle school through high school, but metal shop was also an option. I tried about a half semester of electronics my junior year, but figured out pretty quick that I already knew more about electronics than the teacher did - so went back to wood shop.

    The guys like me with any interest in electronics could join the ham radio club (which we did), and find part time jobs at the stereo shoes after school (which we also did) - CB shops were also an option we participated in back then.

    As you mentioned, the shop teacher was always good for getting us a pass out of class to work on a project. I was one of the real oddballs, as I was taking all honors classes and high level math and science stuff - and then wood shop. I remember all the adults that I knew were always telling me that (with my interests, math, science, etc.) I needed to be an engineer. Unfortunately, nobody I knew could explain what an engineer did! Turns out they were correct, but I was well into first year electrical engineering before I started to figure out what an engineer does. I remember having a hard time not treating my core engineering classes as electives because I was having fun in them! This couldn't be the serious stuff if you were having fun!

    Even in college (early 80's), you still had to get creative to learn things we now associate with makers. I'm a big supporter of the schools having maker spaces to encourage the kids to explore where they want to go. Perhaps like you, I was able to wrangle my way into situations back in school where I could come up with ways to learn the kind of things I wanted to know. However, I remember having a lot of friends in college that were frustrated because they had never been able to figure out how to learn these things. The school sponsored maker spaces are a great way to help people learn the things they want.

    I've been happy to see the amount of effort SparkFun puts into education. Keep up the good work!

  • Let me add, finding money to create and sustain a maker space in a middle school is a significant hurdle in many California schools. The current level of funding does not allow for many luxuries were it not for the efforts of parents via the PTA/PTO organizations many California elementary, middle, and high schools would not have some of the few extras they enjoy today. I can tell you that even at the community college level (where I currently sit) finding money to buy some Aruduino/Redboard SIK and 3d Printers took years to achieve. We have a TECHSHOP locally but the price structure of their facility and classes in well out of reach for a significant portion of the student population.

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