Meet The Maker Kids
Makerspace, Hackerspace, Innovation Lab: these are all terms flying around the engineering scene these days. But what do they mean and what does this have to do with outreach? Makerspaces, as they are commonly known, are spaces that anyone, not just engineers, can get together, tinker, and learn new skills. The new maker movement is obviously attractive to us engineers, we can hack and tinker with like- minded folks, and maybe even, dare I say it ... socialize!! Makerspaces are popping up all over the nation. The typical model is that you pay a monthly or yearly fee and for that you get access to a workshop with all kinds of cool tools and classes, and you'll get to meet loads of knowledgeable folks.
Sounds pretty great, huh? But you're probably asking yourself: What does this have to do with outreach? I'm glad you asked. I'm an electrical engineer and I've worked for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana for sixteen years. During this time I've worked on a number of projects, but my latest assignment is as the STEM coordinator for our base. As the STEM coordinator my job is to interact with our area schools to enhance their STEM curriculum. We do this through field trips, in-class presentations, afterschool robotics teams, and an afterschool program.
The afterschool program started last year. It's geared toward students in grades seven through ten, and modeled after makerspaces. This is a place where students can learn skills such as, programming, 3D printing, and maybe even crocheting.
We learned a lot by implementing this program last year. We knew we had to make it fun and not like a typical classroom since we meet two days a week right after school. We started by letting the kids define their own project. But there were some serious challenges with that. They were unable to set clear goals for themselves and it was hard to teach them all the skills they needed to accomplish their projects. So fast forward to this year, we decided to make starter lessons a few days in length to give the students basic knowledge in subject areas such as programming or electronics. Then the last six weeks of our session we'll allow them to pick a project of their own, where hopefully they can use the previous week's lessons to get their projects complete.
This is a great way of getting kids to think outside of the box and get them oriented to tools they've maybe never seen. The great thing about makerspaces is you can do them on the cheap. Some ideas for items you can get for your makerspace: sewing machines, Arduinos, junk toys, raspberry pi's, Legos, breadboards; all of these items you can get for under $100. If you're trying to think of an outreach program to implement, give some consideration to a makerspace. It's fun and you may learn a few things yourself.
Tina is currently the STEM Outreach Coordinator for her Navy Base. She didn't think she could contribute a blog every month, but she did a feature on 'Makerspaces.'