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ConVal/Jaffrey-Rindge

TINKERing, With An eye to the future

‘Makers clubs’: Jaffrey-Rindge and ConVal school districts have embraced the makerspace movement, in an effort to boost interest in science and technology

  • The Maker movement is infiltrating local school districts in the form of after school programs, allowing kids to tinker and put classroom learning into real world context.
  • The Maker movement is infiltrating local school districts in the form of after school programs, allowing kids to tinker and put classroom learning into real world context.
  • The Maker movement is infiltrating local school districts in the form of after school programs, allowing kids to tinker and put classroom learning into real world context.
  • ConVal Makers Club members Gregory Long, 18, of Temple and Chris Heffernan, 17, of Antrim collaborate while programing using the Raspberry Pi interface at a club meeting after school on Thursday, May 1.
  • Maker movement is infiltrating local schools
  • Maker movement is infiltrating local schools
  • Maker movement is infiltrating local schools
  • Brothers Sam, 11, and Noah, 14, Weinmann of Jaffrey work with the Raspberry Pi interface during a Conant Makers Club meeting in Bryan Field's science room on April 29.
  • Jaffrey resident Hailee Spears, 11, works to build a car with left over metal robotics club parts during the Conant Makers Club meeting on April 29.

The growing makerspace movement has already begun to infiltrate local school districts. Both Conant and ConVal high schools have newly established “makers club” after school programs. The clubs are open to any student who wishes to attend, and are not defined by a concrete skill or passion, just the willingness to make and create.

At Conant, science teacher Bryan Field keeps an eye on the students as they tinker after school on Mondays and Wednesdays. Field came up with the idea to start a makers club at the high school last summer when he attended the Siemens STEM Institute in Washington, D.C.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The goal of STEM teaching is to improve competitiveness in technology development, and some local teachers are jumping on the makerspace bandwagon to help forward this objective.

“I learned about makerspaces for the first time at the STEM Academy and thought it would be a great addition to the district,” said Field. Field invited middle and high school students to his afterschool club, hoping that middle school kids would get hooked, and continue their interest through high school.

“I just want the kids building stuff,” said Field. “I’d rather call it STEAM than STEM, with the ‘A’ standing for art.”

Currently, Field gets more middle than high school students. “I get fewer high school students because of after school sports, drama and band programs,” Field explained.

Students in the club come and go, something that does not bother Field. “I want kids to come because they want to, not because they have to,” he said.

The ConVal makers club meets on Thursdays after school. Physics teacher Beth Wallace runs the club. “The makers’ club is a noncompetitive idea,” said Wallace. “There are no competitions, just taking apart and rebuilding things, and programming,” she said.

Funding is the biggest challenge facing local makerspace afterschool programs. According to Field, Conant does not fund the makers program; all funds currently come from fundraising. “Fundraising is necessary to keep [these clubs] going,” said Field.

The clubs are looking for community financial support, especially from local manufacturing companies, such as EMD Millipore and New Hampshire Ball Bearing. This money would be spent on the necessary equipment for students to further their learning. But even if they could acquire more equipment, that would create a new problem: not having a dedicated space to store it.

“I have no space for flashy equipment, such as 3D printers, that would attract high school kids,” said Field. “In a perfect world, I would have a makerspace with 3D printers, band saws and other equipment for the students.” Both ConVal and Conant’s clubs currently meet in their school’s science rooms.

Right now, the Conant club uses leftover robotics club equipment, computers and other technology that the district schools no longer need, plus the occasional donations from parents, according to Field.

“I’m not looking for any donations of equipment really, because I don’t have the space for stuff we don’t need,” said Field. “We really need money so that we can purchase the equipment we do need.”

Some of the students use a website called Gamestar Mechanic which allows them to design their own games and share them with an online community. The games are first-person adventure based, with thousands of levels that have been designed by members of the online gaming community.

“When I publish this game, others will be able to play it. The program makes you beat your own game before you can publish it,” explained Patrick Greenough, a sixth-grader from Jaffrey.

Other students in the Conant maker club are working with Raspberry Pi — a low cost, credit card-sized, single-board computer created to promote the teaching of computer science in schools. Brothers Sam and Noah Weinmann of Jaffrey got hooked on Raspberry Pi’s ability to allow them to learn basic programming language.

“Programming is just what I do,” said Noah. Before they joined the makers club, the Weinmann brothers were drawn to computers and how they worked. The makers club allows them to use technology like Raspberry Pi, which was created to be programmed by students.

“The reason I joined this club is because of Raspberry Pi, it’s fun to work with,” said Sam. Raspberry Pi is a staple of many makers clubs, including the one at ConVal High School.

ConVal makers club members Gregory Long of Temple and Chris Heffernan of Antrim took quickly to Raspberry Pi.

“I enjoy the challenge of programming and figuring out how to get stuff to work,” said Long. Heffernan and Long recently used the Raspberry Pi to write a program instructing an LED light to change colors.

“People think programing is so challenging, that it’s not fun. Programming is challenging and fun,” said Heffernan.

Dave Dewitt, of Peterborough, a supporter of STEM learning who is involved with both makers clubs, is excited about how the clubs are functioning in their early stages and looks forward to additional members signing up in the future. “If you give students the tools they need, such as Raspberry Pi, they can take off and learn on their own,” said Dewitt.

Dewitt is the founder of manufacturingstories.com, a social media company whose primary goal is to emphasize and strengthen the critical nexus between manufacturing and education. Dewitt has long been a supporter of STEM learning.

Dewitt works with both Field and Wallace, donating his time and passion for STEM learning. Dewitt would like to see NHBB, Millipore, Graphic Cast, and Teleflex donating equipment to makerspace programs. “The goal is to have high school maker clubs feeding these companies prospective employees.” Dewitt envisions a relationship where the companies would be willing to donate funds to the makers clubs, and in return the local companies would have the opportunity to employ well-trained graduates.

“This would relieve the schools of the costs, and create industry/educational collaboration,” said Dewitt.

According to Dewitt, the function of the makers clubs are to help students find an interest, while making education relevant.

“I would like to see a dedicated maker area in schools and access to ancillary places, such as wood shop for the makers,” he said. Dewitt hopes that the educational maker programs will grow through word-of-mouth.

“If faculty and administration talk about [the clubs] during the day, word will spread.”

Years down the road, Dewitt would like to see the fusion of a community makers space with the after school programs. “Students at school could collaborate with community maker spaces; this would allow students to make things through the evening,” said Dewitt. “Kids are lucky to have this type of technology available to them. We didn’t have any of this stuff when I was growing up.”

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