As technology and innovation continue to develop, so do the ingenious ideas of young students growing up in today’s fast-paced culture. On a national scale, education systems continue to evolve to meet the rapid pace of creativity and intellectual development students are moving at today. Even on a local scale, developing ideas and innovating them into reality is a central component in one of today’s hottest educational trends: Makerspaces.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Rebecca Knowles
The faint scent of burnt wood fills the air in one room of the Baldwin Center for Innovation and Collaboration on the campus of All Saints Academy. Two large laser cutters have been going nonstop for hours, bringing student designs to reality on cardboard, foam core, and wood. Students design prototypes on Rhino, a Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software, then send the files to the laser cutter. In the next room, 3D printers hum as they transform files designed by students in Fusion 360 into tangible objects.
Reminiscent of woodshops of years past, today’s Makerspaces contain equipment and tools needed to build and create. The facility at All Saints contains drill presses; saws; clamps; every size and type of nut, bolt, and screw imaginable; and much more. Today’s Makerspaces also contain state-of-the-art electronic components like arduinos, sensors of all types, LED lights, and other technical and electronic components students can use to create virtually anything they can imagine. Anchoring these elements are the high-tech laser cutters and 3D printers mentioned earlier.
With many schools building Makerspaces, another hot topic is how to utilize these top-of-the-line facilities to elicit student growth and enhance learning. All Saints Academy has answered this question in their Upper School with Innovation Studios, a program developed in partnership with NuVu Studios, an innovation school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Innovation Studios, a required course for all ninth- to 12th-grade students each semester, begins with the introduction of an open-ended real-world topic or problem. Students research the topic and then brainstorm innovations to enhance it or solve a problem associated with it. From there, projects are developed and worked on throughout the semester, in a pedagogy closely resembling the architecture studio model. This includes iteration, critique, more iteration, and presentation components. Students develop rough prototypes using cardboard and tape, and refine them into working models and final products through discussions and feedback from coaches and experts.
In addition to giving students hands-on experience with tools, technical skills, and programs used by professionals, Innovation Studios focuses on developing “soft skills,” which are essential for success in the real world. These are the skills businesspeople want to see in their employees: the ability to think independently, communicate effectively, and synthesize feedback, among others. These skills are often hard to define and even harder to teach. Innovation Studios focuses on what All Saints has developed as the New Basics: creative problem-solving, collaboration, innovation, iteration, synthesis of critique, empathy, tech and media literacy, documentation, and presentation. Student growth and progress in these areas are assessed multiple times throughout the semester, using a rubric.
Each semester, Innovation Studios culminates with an exhibition, where students display their final iterations, along with details about the process. This public event allows the students to receive feedback from the community and also practice their presentation skills on a large scale. Following the exhibition, the students create portfolio posts that are uploaded to the NuVu portal. These public posts can be submitted to competitions or to colleges as work samples and portfolios. After four years, students will have been in eight different studios, and have a portfolio with eight different projects, showcasing their growth and development throughout high school.
Working in the Makerspace, using the high-tech equipment has been exciting and eye-opening for students and teachers alike. Those who were more tech-savvy immediately embraced the opportunity, while others took longer to warm up to the concepts. With three semesters under their belts now, however, all students are developing the skills needed to bring their ideas to reality. Learning alongside the students, the ASA faculty has also embraced the new technology. Outside of Innovation Studios, Rhino and Fusion software are being introduced in other classes to teach mathematical concepts, and brainstorming and rapid prototyping are being used to bring difficult concepts to life in hands-on experiences. Teachers have even been using the laser cutters and 3D printers to create challenge boxes and other teaching implements for their classes. The purposeful use of the Makerspace through Innovation Studios has proven to have far-reaching results across campus.
Makerspaces have been starting to make their way into Polk County for a few years now. In addition to the building at All Saints Academy, similar spaces can be found at Florida Polytechnic University, where they have rooms full of 3D printers and other equipment, all available for student use. In the public schools, 3D printers are becoming more available to students. At Lake Region High School, for example, biology teacher Donald Bush uses 3D printers with his students as they study DNA and create models. As the 3D printers become more affordable and more people know how to use them, students will have more opportunities to interact with them and create anything they can imagine.