Visit to MSSM Makerspace

My Goals for the Makerspace Visit

In late July I had the chance to visit theMaine School of Science and Math’s Maker Space. My goal for this visit was both simple, yet complex. I am trying to launch a makerspace at UMF, and with this goal I am finding it helpful to speak with as many people as possible about their experiences. In particular I am gathering information about

  1. launching a maker space,
  2. connecting curriculum to the makerspace,
  3. managing a makerspace and
  4. embedding principles of inclusion into the space.

While I hoped to gather information on as much as possible, I planned to really focus on 2 and 3 from my above list for this visit. My goal is to create such a space at UMF because makerspaces

bring creativity back into the the classroom and empower students to think beyond traditional solutions, and critically develop solutions that are truly authentic to their style of learning” (Horizon Report Higher Education, 2017, p.3).

As more and more students experience the maker mindset and resources in K-12, we in higher education need to be a natural trajectory to take the learning forward. The authors of the 2017 Higher Education report claimed

University makerspaces, a major iteration of learning space redesign, have gained traction in the past few years, especially as extensions of campus libraries” (Horizon Report Higher Education, 2017, p. 16).

However, at UMF we have not yet launched such a space, but certainly feel there is a natural partnership with the campus libraries. Libraries in the community, K-12 education, and higher education are natural hubs for these kinds of activities and experiences(Schwartz, 2016 Feb 5).

For example here are some higher education maker spaces:

While it is easy to see makerspaces as something that can happen at a large school, the reality is that smaller schools, including our COPLAC peers are also embedding these spaces into their campuses and curricula.

About the Makerspace Visit

I had an informal tour from Dr. Greg Hamlin who is a Computer Science teacher. Greg has his Ph.D. in Computer System Engineering. We talked about Greg’s journey to the position, and the fact that his background in industry and computing helped to prepare him for his current role. Here is a quick visual tour of the space.

Vex Robotics area

Vex Robotics area at MSSM makerspace
Vex Robotics(J.Prince photo credit)
Machine Area in MSSM Maker Space
Machine Area (J.Prince photo credit)

Robotics plays a central role in his curriculum and the after school competitive club he runs. These are VEX robotics which are commonly used in competitive leagues and the company offers a variety of resources. The company’s website says: “The world faces an unprecedented need for new innovators, thinkers, and problem solving leaders. Our goal is to create engaging, affordable, and powerful solutions that immerse students in STEM through the excitement of building and programming robots.”

Machine Area

In addition to the robotics spaces, and other spaces described below, there was also a space that reminded me much of my high school woodshop classroom space, with a variety of tools. These tools were all locked, and I describe those locks below in this article. Dr, Hamlin did note that this space had not been as used as some of the other spaces in his room.


3D Printing and Laser Cutting

3D Printer (J.Prince photo credit)

Dr. Hamlin teaches a variety of courses that use 3D software, and students also use this same software to generate models for both printing and cutting. As Martinez and Stager (2013) described:

A 3D printer is a machine that builds a three-dimensional object under computer control. Fabrication machines are sometimes categorized with other “additive” machines. These machines add materials together to create new and different shapes and products… Computer controlled milling machines, laser cutters, and other subtractive machines can add a lot of capability to the high-end machine shop, and are gradually making their way into classroom makerspaces. (p.92)

Laser Cutter (J.Prince photo credit)

As we were talking about the 3D printer I noticed a clever addition, a web-camera mounted on the side of the printer, so that a print job could be observed remotely. I can see why this might be a great option for a residential setting, or even just in cases of longer print jobs. If the printer can be remotely stopped, this would allow you to pause a job that has gone awry.

In addition to the additive 3D printer, MSSM also has an impressiveFull Spectrum Laser Cutter. Students can cut a variety of surfaces and produce 3D models of a wide range of objects. As can be seen below the students have produced a range of objects. The few I saw had a medieval flare and I asked about integration of these projects with other courses, and Dr. Hamlin said there is some limited integration with students producing 3D models for other courses.

Safety and Organization

As we toured the space I was very impressed with a number of small features that clearly made the space safe and organized for the students. As Martinez and Stager (2011) stated

Once you have decided what kinds of equipment you will begin with, find ways for students to access that equipment that balances safety and security with creativity and a sense of ownership (p. 169)

Machine Power Lock (J.Prince photo credit)
Repurposed Map Drawer (J.Prince photo credit)

I was struck by the fact that Dr. Hamlin has done just this. The space feels very student friendly, but also clearly prioritizes safety of the students. The students must request a key from Dr. Hamlin prior to being able to power on the larger tools.

In addition to the safety of students I was also struck by the way certain items had been repurposed for organization. In particular the large map drawers that had been converted to house the small parts that are associated with arduinos and other small computing elements that could be easily lost.


Reflection

For me there was so much power to seeing this space, and envisioning the curriculum of creation that Dr. Hamlin was building. I could see direct connections to Computational Thinking goals laid out in the vision document from ISTE and Computer Science Teachers. In particular these characteristics stood out to me as design assumptions for the space and curriculum:

ISTE and Computer Science Teacher's Vision Computational Thinking Operational Definition
ISTE and Computer Science Teacher’s Vision Computational Thinking Operational Definition (Screen shot from ISTE by J Prince)
  • Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems

I agree when Martinez and Stager (2013) wrote that “in most schools structure is valued over serendipity” (p. 36). They also stated “the incentives to continue to make a trivial object were stronger than the incentives to move onward to more complex, challenging work. This dilemma is amplified by typical school curriculum tendencies to emphasize product over process” (p.103). I wonder what role spaces like this one at MSSM can allow for more serendipity for the learner?

Papert, one of the leaders of using educational technology for constructivist pedagogy said

one might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building (1993, p.5)

It is this vision which I too believe in, and worry that we are deploying devices that program our children more than engaging our children in ways that let them control the devices. I am hopeful for the potential of maker spaces to reverse this trend.

I agree with Martinez and Stager (2013) when they say

Learning to program a computer is an act of intellectual master that empowers children and teaches them that they have control of a piece of powerful technology. Students quickly learn that they are the most important part of the computer program (p. 130)

I am committed to my goal of launching a maker space here at UMF and bringing this vision to higher education students.


References

Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., & Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC horizon report: 2017 higher education edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Freeman, A., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., & Hall Giesinger, C. (2017). NMC/CoSN horizon report: 2017 K-12 edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Papert, S. A. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas (2 edition). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. S. (2013). Invent To learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Schwartz, K. (2016, February 5). What colleges can gain by adding makerspaces to their libraries. Mindshift Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/02/05/what-colleges-can-gain-by-adding-makerspaces-to-its-libraries/ 

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