Written by Alison Earnhart, MakerSpace Maven
As the leaves fall in the playground behind the school, I feel a sense that we’re no longer in the season of “new school year” and have successfully transitioned into “business as usual”. I’m particularly pleased with how our MakerSpace Engineering class has been going, because I’m so passionate about growing and supporting a “makerspace culture” here at Acera.
To give students a better idea of what makerspace culture can look and feel like, we took a small field trip last Tuesday to Artisan’s Asylum, one of the biggest (and coolest!) public makerspaces in the Boston area. For an afternoon, we got to tour the whole facility and see what kinds of tools and materials the “pros” use, as well as get inspired by their amazing projects. Seeing a wide range of artistic and scientific endeavors from wall-mounted puzzle boxes to the SCUL bike fleet was certainly inspiring for all of us.
Last Friday we welcomed a guest speaker, Mr. Joshua Lankford from MITRE Corporation, to give a talk to us about his many jobs and internships in the field of engineering. Joshua has had a fascinating career working on projects ranging from the Navy’s Trident Missiles in Southern California to community urban farming in Cleveland to the SPARC fusion reactor at MIT. Mr. Lankford spoke at length about the skills he developed during internships in his youth, and how important it is to “just put yourself out there” and apply for jobs that will introduce you to new fields. As an engineer, he works deeply with 3D CAD to design and document projects, which was of great interest to our students. Over the weeks that we’ve been working in class, the students have come to realize just how fundamental good CAD skills are to a wide range of applications – most importantly for us, the laser cutter and 3D printers.
Speaking of skills and tools, the students are quite busy leveling up in their “quests”, which we determined was the best way to describe their journeys to master various makerspace staples. The students and I developed a 4-tiered system to rank ability and status on the most commonly used makerspace tools. And yes, with student input, everything is Dungeons & Dragons/Magic the Gathering themed – I love it! The first level is “Commoner”, which signifies that a person knows about a tool or skill, and has an academic understanding of it. The second level, “Apprentice”, indicates that you have had some basic introductory experiences with the tool or skill. The third level, “Mage”, is for students who have mastered the basics and are using the tools on a regular basis. The last level, “Archmage” is reserved for those who truly become experts in their field, and are skilled enough to become stewards of the machines/apps in the school and help teach their peers. Currently, everyone in the class has achieved Commoner status on all of our different “Classes”, another D&D reference. And just like in Dungeons and Dragons, you can “multiclass” to level up in more than one area of expertise. The classes are: 3D printers, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, Arduino & Microcontrollers, 2D CAD, and 3D CAD. Most students have achieved Apprentice level on at least one class, and one student has already achieved Mage status on the laser cutter.