Tag Archives: makerspace

Tennessee Teachers Turn to Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute

A $1 million program established by the Volkswagen Group of America will give students in Hamilton County, Tennessee, hands-on access to digital fabrication tools like robotics, laser cutters, and programmable microcomputers. The automaker is partnering with the Hamilton County Department of Education to establish VW eLabs aimed at teaching twenty-first-century skills.

To administer the program, Volkswagen turned to the Chattanooga-based Public Education Foundation (PEF). After PEF’s Director of Innovative Learning Michael Stone and his colleagues selected the first batch of eight schools to receive funding, the next challenge was preparing educators to provide students with meaningful learning experiences using the new technologies, which ranged from 3-D printers to laser cutters.

To do that, Stone sent 17 Hamilton County teachers to the Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute, offered by the Elizabeth Forward School District (EFSD) in Elizabeth, PA.

“In awarding us this grant, Volkswagen charged us with not only opening these labs and making sure there wasn’t high-tech equipment just sitting there, but they were very clear that they wanted to see legitimate impact,” said Stone.

He found a perfect partner in the EFSD, which has taken a leading role in the maker movement and its extension into fabrication and “fab labs.”

Even to educators who regularly incorporate making into their lesson plans, fabrication may be a new concept. To Todd Keruskin, EFSD assistant superintendent, the fabrication lab offers much of the same potential for learning opportunities afforded by makerspaces, with an expanded tool kit.

“In a simple makerspace, you may have cardboard and tape and glue and bottle cleaners, and you can give kids design challenges that way,” said Keruskin. “In a fab lab, it’s the other side of the spectrum, with laser cutters and 3-D printers and plasma cutters.”

Learning to use the laser cutter at Pittsburgh Fab Institute / Photo by Ben Filio

While both makerspaces and fabrication labs pose interesting challenges to learners, the fabrication lab puts technology at the center of the experience.

“We’re getting kids to use technology not just to play Minecraft, but to ask themselves, ‘How do I use this to design and make?’” said Keruskin. “You can get kindergartners designing and printing, or first-graders using laser cutters.”

The Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute offered by the EFSD is a four-day conference providing educators hands-on opportunities to learn both design thinking and specific fabrication tools, ranging from vinyl cutters and 3-D printers to electronic components and CNC routers. In June 2017, it was offered for the third year, with attendance growing substantially over that time, from approximately 60 educators in 2015 to 140 this year, with attendees traveling from 12 different states.

Like fabrication itself, the Fab Institute emphasizes hands-on learning, and is designed to prepare teachers to return to their home schools comfortable with a range of equipment, ready to instruct and inspire students.

“Educators don’t want to be talked to and be bored,” said Keruskin. “The only way to learn this stuff is by doing—and failing.”

It’s the exact process—what Keruskin calls a “growth mindset”—that he and other educators are trying to instill in their students.

“It’s a major part of the twenty-first–century skills we’re teaching,” he said. “We need to teach a growth mindset where they’re going to be resilient and push forward and if they don’t understand something they’ll figure it out.”

EFSD’s interest in the potential of makerspaces and fabrication labs began in 2011, when Keruskin and his superintendent, Bart Rocco, decided to seek out ways to enhance programs like woodshop and other hands-on electives, which at the time were being cut from the state’s education budget. They reached out to experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and to leaders in the maker movement, including members of the Remake Learning network in the Pittsburgh region.

“When I went to school, we made a birdhouse or a step stool,” said Keruskin. “Those days are over. We want to be able to bring creativity and learning. How do we integrate a computer into wood shop? How do we get kids designing on computers?”

Going from digital design to physical product / Photo by Ben Filio

The district’s first efforts at makerspaces and fabrication were at the high school and middle school level, with efforts currently underway to implement these curricula in elementary schools.

“Creativity and innovation, these are the skills we’re trying to teach—twenty-first century skills,” said Keruskin. “We want kids to be more collaborative, and to be able to communicate—why did they design this, and why did they do it this way? They still need to read and know mathematics, but these are among the many skills that making brings out.”

Stone and the Chattanooga teachers returned to Tennessee energized, inspired by their experience at the Fab Institute.

“We loved the fully immersive experience,” he said. “It really lets teachers engage with the tool as if they were the students, and it’s not didactic. The teachers raved about the increase in their confidence to utilize the tools in the space.”

Grant Knowles, one of the participating teachers from Normal Park Museum Magnet School who this year will fill the role of VW eLabs specialist, noted the value of peer-to-peer learning that occurred between educators at the institute.

“One thing that stuck out was the ability to interact with other teachers,” he said. “You could collaborate and brainstorm with people who did this every day, and others who were learning the process.”

That openness was by design, said Keruskin. Over four days of participating in hands-on workshops and eating lunch together, teachers and administrators get to know one another, often sharing ideas on how to integrate fabrication into their curricula.

“People come to us at the Fab Institute each with a different background,” Keruskin said. “Oftentimes they try to help guide others with what they want to do in their own school.”

The Fab Institute seeks to bolster networking connections by holding additional meetings in the fall and spring, allowing educators to share ideas, comparing notes on their success integrating fabrication into different lesson plans.

“We don’t want this to be a standalone course in schools,” said Keruskin. “Back in the day, when I worked in computer class, the only time I touched a computer was in that class, and now computers are integrated into every class.”

While in Pittsburgh, Stone and representatives from the school district and from Volkswagen shadowed Keruskin throughout an entire school day.

“What we really liked in what we saw is the partnerships,” said Stone. “The way that Elizabeth Forward as a school district is embedding digital fabrication as a common thread in the education experience is more authentic than you see anywhere else in the country.”

Knowles saw evidence of the EFSD’s embrace of fabrication in a different facet of his Fab Institute experience:

“The presenters were excellent but the student assistants from Elizabeth Forward absolutely knew what was going on,” he said. “It was very clear this was something they were not only knowledgeable about but very invested in.”

“All of us felt very strongly that they were onto something and it felt like something we could scale, and take ownership over, and to a large degree replicate,” said Stone.

Indeed, there is talk of organizing a Tennessee Fabrication Institute in the months ahead.

Help Local Schools Build Their Dream Makerspaces

A number of Pittsburgh-area schools have grand plans to support hands-on learning on their campuses, and they need your help this week.

Teachers across disciplines will attest to the educational value of tinkering, building, and playing with new materials. The problem is that many institutions lack the resources to carve out spaces for experiential learning. Enter Kickstarting Making in Schools, a joint venture between the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Kickstarter.

Over the summer, 10 local schools received guidance on developing and funding their dream makerspaces. The museum (home to the venerable MAKESHOP) provided professional development and helped the schools draw up plans for the physical spaces. Kickstarter trained the teachers and administrators to crowd-fund.

Now the school leaders turn to their communities to put the plans into action. Since the crowd-funding campaigns went live at the beginning of the month, two of the 10 schools have already exceeded their goals. The rest have until late October or early November to meet their funding requests.

A few of the fabulous projects that could still use support:

  • While the maker movement is gaining national traction, rural school districts can be left out of the conversation—and the support systems. Burgettstown Area School District wants to transform two existing rooms into learner-driven makerspaces with flexible seating arrangements, mobile material storage, and a maker library. Back this project.
  • In Swissvale, five schools have become one: Woodland Hills Intermediate. The transition provides an opportunity for fresh additions to the campus, including a potential makerspace. The school serves mostly economically disadvantaged students who are too often underrepresented in STEM fields. School leaders want to empower these students to envision themselves as engineers and creators by stocking the new space with 3D printers, sewing machines, and metalworking tools. Back this project.
  • Students at Lincoln PreK-5 have plenty of say in the design of their own project, an outdoor STEAM space next to the school. Together, teachers and students dreamed up a new use for an unused plot of land that borders their building. The vision includes butterflies, community food gardens, and hands-on outdoor learning. Back this project.

Check out all 10 projects–and make a move before it’s too late!

Mindful Making

Exciting things happen in makerspaces, including learning to think critically about oneself as a maker and about the social responsibilities that come with making. In the world of Human-Computer Interaction, this is called critical technical practice, or critical making. From this perspective, making is about more than creating objects, learning STEM principles, or how to code; it is also about understanding the process, thinking critically about oneself and the role that one’s values and assumptions can have on the objects one makes, and the effect that one’s creations might have on others.

Minful_MakerWith the help of Sprout’s Remake Learning Fellowship, I launched the Mindful Making project, with the goal of exploring critical technical practice in makerspaces for youth. We went into Pittsburgh-area makerspaces to look at the kinds of critical and self-reflective questions that makers–novice and expert–ask themselves when they create technical artifacts, the idea being that questions can help learners stop and think, and can guide them toward deeper thinking. Questions are a simple and portable language tool that mentors can use to scaffold deeper thinking and a disposition toward mindful and critical technical practice.

Youth makers usually begin a project by asking themselves, What do I want to make? That’s a good starting point but what happens next? Are there questions that can guide makers toward a critical technical practice? With the help of teens and mentors in Pittsburgh-area makerspaces, the Mindful Making project came up with a starter list of questions to help guide deeper thinking. The questions are below and you can find them at the Mindful Maker website:

  • What resources do I have and need? Mindful makers want to know what resources will serve as a muse to their imaginations. It is important to understand the properties of materials.
  • What will inspire me to give my time and effort to a project? Sometimes we lack the necessary skills to complete a project and need to make an effort to learn. Mindful Makers look for interesting projects that will keep them engaged and motivated (for example, music, sports, or a special cause).
  • What do I know? Mindful Makers ask themselves this question throughout the making process. That way they can figure out what they don’t know and take steps to learn.
  • What will make me happy? Mindful Makers are aware of the emotional connection between the maker and the objects they make. If the item makes you happy then you can have fun.
  • Can I let myself make a mistake? Mindful Makers understand that mistakes are okay and can make a project better. Sometimes this leads Mindful Makers to ask another question: What ways beyond the ‘right’ way can I make something?
  • Who is my audience? Mindful Makers understand that some of their projects will be viewed, used, and shared by other people. Who are those people? Mindful Makers think about how their own interests and ideals interact with the needs of the potential audience.
  • How will my creation affect other people? Mindful Makers think about how their project might affect people. Will it interest them? Will they learn something? Will they have fun? Will it make them happy or sad?
  • What kind of maker am I? Maker self-awareness helps us anticipate the best way to tackle a design/build problem.

If you want to give these question prompts a try in your own makerspace for youth, download and print the poster from the Mindful Maker site.

Many thanks to the young people and mentors from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and Assemble, who participated in this project.

Leanne Bowler, an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, studies youth interactions with technology.


Peering Into the EdTech Crystal Ball

Remember Stickybear ABC, the 1984 computer game that taught kids letters? Or The Oregon Trail? Or Apple’s 1990 prediction that one day teachers will send “cyberlinks” to each other?

History shows us that technology does not always play out in classrooms the way one might predict. http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-interim-results.pdfBut every year, the New
Media Consortium (NMC) gives divining edtech’s future a valiant shot. NMC recently released the preliminary results of its annual Horizon Report, which explores how emerging technologies and trends are intersecting with education, and how lingering challenges will be addressed.

This year, makerspaces made it onto the list as an innovation that will be adopted into the mainstream in “one year or less.” Makerspaces are among the many homes of the maker movement. In libraries, schools, or community spaces, they come complete with tools and software that kids (and adults) can use to build whatever they dream up. As creativity, design, and engineering make their way to the forefront of skills needed for a 21st century economy, the report finds, makerspaces are helping “renovate or repurpose classrooms to address the needs of the future.”

Notably, in Pittsburgh, makerspaces like those at Assemble and MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum dot the city and serve as places for rich hands-on learning in informal spaces.

Interestingly, last year, makerspaces were barely mentioned in the Horizon report. And while they may have made the short list this year, one of the report’s listed “challenges” worth noting is scaling teaching innovations. “A pervasive aversion to change limits the diffusion of new ideas, and too often discourages experimentation,” the authors write.

A makerspace takes plenty of planning and resources—although some schools have gotten creative with mobile makerspaces on carts. Meanwhile, several experts have critiqued parts the maker movement for a lack of inclusivity and heavy focus on tech. Any movement making inroads in education comes with its fair share of challenges.

Also on the list of edtech phenomena that the report predicts will be adopted in a year or less is BYOD, short for Bring Your Own Device, in which students bring their devices to school and connect to the school network. The report predicts cloud computing, or using apps and programs that make collaboration easier, has a one-year-or-less time to adoption, as does mobile learning, a concept that places no limits on where and when students learn with mobile devices.

The report also cites the rise of STEAM learning and cross-disciplinary learning at schools as other means for edtech to be effective and useful.

Finally, NMC predicts trends that are five years off or more. This year, the report says, microcredit and badges may be used as a way to grant credit for informal learning opportunities. (Some of Pittsburgh’s organizations, like the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, have already done so.) It also predicted the potential of drones for educational use and pointed to a school in Norway where students map out geometric shapes in the air.

Equally fascinating is examining the past and the forces that make educational trends fizzle. The NMC retired games and gamification this year from the list. The CEO of NMC, Larry Johnson, said the trend “is just out of reach for most people” and the developments that gaming experts saw coming have not materialized.

While technology and other promising trends may be eye-catching, questions usually arise once they are brought into the classroom. At the recent CoSN conference, where the preview of the NMC report was released, CoSN’s CEO, Keith Krueger, stressed the importance of considering the context of successful integration of new technologies into classrooms, according to EdTech Magazine.

“Emerging technologies always draw a crowd,” he said. “But as leaders we need to focus on solving real educational problems.”

In Pittsburgh, many organizations keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s new while emphasizing how to use innovations to remake learning. There is really no predicting what the future holds for kids today, but giving them an education that helps them love learning and adapting will prepare them for whatever is next.

The Maker Movement Gets a Dose of Critique

Seems everyone is a cheerleader for the maker movement these days, from President Obama to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Who isn’t in favor of more self-directed, hands-on learning projects; cupcake cars; or kids working with old-fashioned looms?

That’s why—for a lot of maker-oriented folks browsing the internet late last January—Debbie Chachra’s “Why I Am Not a Maker” in the Atlantic made them do a Twitter-scroll double take. It certainly did for me.

“An identity built around making things—of being ‘a maker’—pervades technology culture,” she wrote. “There’s a widespread idea that ‘People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.’”

As Chachra, who is an associate professor at the Olin College of Engineering, went on to explain, placing such high value on making things isn’t only buying into an overtly capitalistic mindset—it’s carrying on a gendered history of prioritizing creation of stuff over occupations like caretaking or education, roles historically taken by women.

She also points to the peculiarity that coding has been folded so seamlessly into the maker movement. She attests that’s because we’ve figured out how to sell code—and it’s perceived to be done mainly by men. Meanwhile, teaching and caregiving, traditionally women’s work, isn’t considered part of the “maker” domain.

“Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system,” she wrote. “While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.”

Cue the mental tire screech-sound effect at that one.

Although Chachra’s piece may be controversial, as far as I can tell, the general reaction on social media seemed to be an appreciation for her thoughtful critique. People all around the web—maker advocates or not—called it “challenging” or “thought provoking.” She does not hold back. And because so much coverage routinely hails the maker movement as the greatest thing since sliced bread, something that looks at it from a skeptical angle is refreshing to hear.

Of course, the piece elicited response from many who do consider themselves makers, often very proudly. At DML Central, educational researcher Nicole Mirra took Chachra’s critiques one by one.

“Couldn’t we instead proudly embrace our multiple identities and work to draw out the connections between them—the ways that we cannot fully realize our potential as makers until we work on cultivating the crucial caring virtues of listening, empathizing, and loving?” – Nicole Mirra

“Couldn’t we instead proudly embrace our multiple identities and work to draw out the connections between them—the ways that we cannot fully realize our potential as makers until we work on cultivating the crucial caring virtues of listening, empathizing, and loving?” Mirra wrote.

Meanwhile, blogger and the chair of computer science at the Baldwin School, Laura Blankenship, noted that the maker movement arose from our existing culture, meaning it brings with it cultural sexism, racism, and classism. But similar to Mirra’s articulations, Blankenship thinks it’s worth trying to change the movement from within.

“The maker movement deserves our critical eye, for sure, but it should be changed and not rejected,” she wrote. “Its focus can’t be on what makes white, middle aged men happy—robots, cool gadgets, cars—but we need to point out when this is happening and correct it.”

As Mirra pointed out in the beginning of her post, there does seem to be a gap in definitions. Although she doesn’t explain it, Chachra’s maker movement seems to focus in on techie, Silicon Valley start-up culture that builds the types of things that could be sold or, at the very least, shown off. But in schools and informal learning spaces, it’s the wondrously frustrating process of making that’s valued—the result of a catapult or a sword or circuit is really only a bonus. Many would likely argue there is no “adult” maker movement and educational maker movement but that it’s one and the same. However, there does seem to be a difference in definitions between what Chachra has experienced and what goes on day in and day out in makerspaces built for kids and their families.

A dialogue on making can’t be a bad thing, though. Along with recognition, at this point the maker movement has gained a key ingredient to any thing that’s ever made an impact: healthy critique.

Why Makerspaces Give Kids Space to Fail, and Why That’s a Good Thing

My second-grader cries when he needs help with his math homework. He’s good at math. And with ease, he has been able to handle most of the homework that’s come home under the new Common Core math curriculum. But when the answers don’t come easily, he gets upset and doesn’t want to try. The idea that you have to get things wrong a few times, sometimes many times, in order to get to the right answer is not a lesson he’s yet learned.

He’s only eight, but as a parent, I hope he’ll have more opportunities to get the answer wrong, and to have to find his own way, as he grows older.

Experts like Angela Duckworth, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the importance of “grit,” says these are experiences my son will need in order to develop the kind of higher-order thinking skills necessary in our rapidly changing world. Duckworth defines “grit” as the “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

Duckworth says she’s seen lots of very smart kids who don’t know how to fail. “They don’t know how to struggle, and they don’t have a lot of practice with it,” she said.

Tom Hoerr, an administrator at the New City School in St. Louis, recently told NPR his goal is to make sure “that no matter how talented [students are], they hit the wall, so they can learn to pick themselves up, hit the wall again and pick themselves up again, and ultimately persevere and succeed.”

Teaching our kids to work hard and to stick with something even when they keep hitting that wall is no easy task, as a parent or as an educator. It’s tough to watch and to resist the urge to make things easier for them.

It’s not making mistakes, but how kids react to the “wall” that matters.

Makerspaces, popping up in schools, libraries, and museums, may be one cool place to teach kids this perseverance. With the unstructured time and materials they offer for kids to work on their own projects, solve problems together, and try things out over and over again, makerspaces can be an exciting laboratory.

The tinkering that’s going on in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP, for example, allows kids (and adults) to experiment with wood, circuitry, a needle and thread, or old technology that they can take apart and  put back together. Kids get ideas, but things usually don’t go right the first time.

This trial and error (emphasis on the error) is another extension of exploration and experimentation. Kids try things, without the pressure of a grade or a big red mark on their paper. Instead, in this environment, where everyone is working and failing, they’re freer to say, “Oh this didn’t work out, how can I make it work?” It’s not making mistakes, but how kids react to the “wall” that matters. It’s all about turning that initial ding in one’s confidence into a chance to learn. That’s ultimately empowering and it’s special.

Kylie Peppler is an assistant professor of learning sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington, and the head of the Make to Learn Initiative. She’s studying makerspaces, including the one at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, to see what they have to teach us about learning.

“The act of construction externalizes what kids know,” she said in an interview last year, “and allows them to reflect on the designing and action. The externalizing of your ideas is really productive for learning and connecting with other people.”

The Institute of Museum and Library Services recently announced a new partnership with the children’s museum to help build the capacity of other libraries and museums around the country to develop these spaces. Under the new grant, the children’s museum will be working with the North Carolina State University Libraries, Exploratorium, Chicago Public Library, and Maker Education Initiative to provide museum and library professionals with tools and resources, in addition to professional development.

At the New York Hall of Science, one of at least 10 learning labs across the country that allow teens to experiment with technology in a hands-on way, teens use tools ranging from band saws to 3D printers to create solutions for community problems. Recently they saw a problem in their neighborhood in Queens and designed a solution. It’s a common scene in cities: older women pulling their groceries or packages home in a two-wheeled cart. But in Queens, getting home often means taking the el and lugging that cart up to the platform, one step at a time. The teens thought they could design a better cart.

They set to work designing a better wheel—one that pivots for easier ascent. With the guidance of mentors, the teens created a prototype with dowels and tape and cardboard and a wheel of an existing cart, learning valuable skills about trial and error, critical thinking, and collaboration along the way. And who knows—maybe a patent in the future.

Are these types of spaces the key to get kids thinking for themselves? Facing another night of tears and math homework, I sure hope so.


Fab Labs, MakerSpaces Come to Pittsburgh Area Public Schools

At the new “dream studio” in the wing of a middle school, students play with digital and physical materials to invent their own iPod speakers. At fabrication labs in the local high schools, teens study digital manufacturing and test out their designs on new 3-D printers.

Elementary students are thinking up their own model cities in partnership with local engineering firms using modeling software, and teachers and students are experimenting in their schools’ robotics laboratory. Storage closets are becoming digital communications stations; music classrooms are morphing into digital production studios and immersive music centers.

These are the classroom spaces of the future. And the future is now in the Pittsburgh region where, thanks to some help from local foundations, public schools are brimming with opportunities for students to experiment with digital, maker, and STEAM learning. And more are on the way.

The local Allegheny Intermediate Unit, with support from the Benedum and Grable Foundations, has awarded $500,000 to 25 area school districts in the Pittsburgh region to integrate science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) into public schools – with an emphasis on designing innovative spaces and places within school walls for students to experiment with digital technologies in a hands-on way.

Regular readers of this blog know that the DIY ethos of the maker movement is important to today’s learning environments. Hands-on learning is naturally engaging, and the skills students gain along the way– critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and collaboration–are those they’ll need in the workplaces of the future.

Photo: Ben Filio

Photo: Ben Filio

Making is so engaging that the U.S. Department of Education is getting behind the movement. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened educational leaders last month to explore ways to develop learning experiences that better connect in-school and out-of-school time; better connect students to their passions, peers, communities and careers; and redesign our nation’s high schools to prepare students for a connected world of learning.

In addition to national leaders such as Joi Ito, director of MIT’s media lab and John Seely Brown, we were proud to see Alyssa Dangel, a local Pittsburgh high school student describe the new opportunities she and her fellow students have at her school, Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth, PA.

“Whenever I think of my future, I’m thinking now I could work for a company that makes games,” she told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Alyssa had enrolled in a 3-D modeling course offered through her school’s newly launched Entertainment Technology Academy, a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.  She said the software has really changed her vision for her future and that the course was a learning experience for her teachers as well.

“Both the teacher and the student are learning at the same time,” she said. “While I was working on 3-D modeling, we would work on it together and fix problems together.”

Twenty-five schools districts received $20,000 in awards. The Pennsylvania school districts were in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  Each grant will be used to redesign and create spaces, such as classrooms and library areas, to engage students in STEAM subjects and projects.   These places add to the region’s building boom of new 21st-century digital learning spaces for students of all ages.

This is the fifth consecutive year that the Benedum and Grable Foundations have provided support for STEAM projects in the Pittsburgh region. The grants are distributed through the Center for Creativity, which works to connect the region’s diverse and creative resources with educators in order to infuse creativity into curriculum, instruction, and school culture.  Through the efforts of the foundations and the Center for Creativity, school districts throughout southwestern Pennsylvania have received more than $1 million in STEAM grants since 2009.

21st Century Shop Class

Over 120,000 people attended Maker Faire Bay Area, held on May 18-19 at the San Mateo Event Center in California. As expected, innovative creations abounded, including everything from beaded spaceships to electric cars.

It’s no surprise there was such a large turnout for the event. California has been a hub for innovation and a home to the maker community for years, as the Bay Area was the first to host a Maker Faire back in 2006. More recently, the state was the first to be part of the MENTOR Makerspace program, funded by the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and spearheaded by O’Reilly Media’s Make division.

“We have to move from an engine of bureaucracy to an engine of innovation,” Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter told Fast Company.

The enterprise, established in 2012, is set to provide approximately 1000 public schools with makerspaces in the next three to four years. The first phase of the program’s rollout is currently underway; it includes the installation of these workshops in 16 schools in California. The spaces will be equipped with a “shop-in-a-box” starter kit including a variety of tools, materials, and software capable of producing a wide range of projects. For example, a cardboard cutter designed specifically for classrooms known as the “Othercutter” is just one of the tools included in the setup.

Photo/ Sean Freese

According to the New York Times, DARPA continues to underwrite the start of these spaces in schools elsewhere in the country, and, although cofounder of the makerspace concept Dale Dougherty argues that the partnership is a positive step forward, there has been a bit of controversy regarding DARPA’s intentions.

“Having these programs in schools is fantastic, but the military calling the shots in American education? I don’t see that as a positive move,” Mitch Altman, cofounder of the San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge, told the New York Times. “If you grow a piece of celery in red water, it’s going to be red,” added another skeptic of the partnership, head of the Alpha One Labs in Brooklyn Sean Auriti. “I’m just wondering how this Darpa defense contract money is going to influence these projects,” he said.

Conversely, Dougherty is sure the results will be a fruitful, opportunity-rich development in American education. “For me, the DARPA funding signifies that a revitalized manufacturing capacity is a national priority, and fostering interest among young people in making things is how we can take concrete steps to address that issue,” wrote Dougherty in blog post for Make Magazine last year. “Makerspace is not a DARPA program; it is a program that DARPA helped with their funding, which ultimately comes from the US taxpayer. Our Makerspace program is designed to learn from what we see happening in the maker community and work closely with the intersection of the communities of makers and educators to spread these ideas, technologies, and innovation more broadly across our country and the world,” he concluded.

And the positive changes Dougherty predicted have already started blossoming out of the partnership, despite scrutiny from its critics. In one of the pilot schools, Analy High School in Sebastopol, teacher Casey Shea began using his school’s laser cutter—acquired through the partnership—to create customized tools for other educators, which could be seen as a first step in forging a more sustainable educator community.

EdSurge writer Betsy Corcoran reported on Shea’s revelation:

Shea had a true penny-dropping moment when he realized that his school’s laser cutter could easily craft exactly the kinds of materials that many schools and teachers spend thousands of dollars to buy: Maps, cut from white boards on which students can fill in country (or state) names and later easily erase; the outline of a clock also on a white board to help students practice telling time; white board graphs for mathematical equations, and so on.

Shea plans on orchestrating a summer workshop to help train teachers, and Corcoran reported that design templates, which can be printed on low-cost bulk white boards using word processing software, are also on the horizon.

Meanwhile, at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, biology teacher Dante DePaola and his students built their makerspace through the partnership, designing and assembling all of the furniture within the space from scratch. Since then, DePaola’s students have built things like iPod speakers and structures that help prevent eggs from cracking upon impact, among other projects, which DePaola documents on his Piner Makers blog.

One of DePaola’s most inspiring resources is his “Wall of Making,” an immersive collage of students’ ideas. “Students are encouraged to bring in newspaper articles, do some individual research, or document their own work—and show off examples of making that they connect to,” explained Stephanie Chang in a post on the Makerspace blog. “Examples are plastered all over the wall; these mini bits of inspiration show how broad and varied making is, and how it reaches just about anyone and everyone,” she wrote.

It’s inarguable that, by building Makerspaces in public schools, there will be more equitable opportunities for students to follow their passions and learn to use the tools they’ll need to do so. Hopefully, the partnership will continue to expand out of California, to Pittsburgh and elsewhere. As Dougherty said to Fast Company’s Kamenetz, “I feel we’re at this point in time where people are looking for some substantial change in education … and I want to be that new thing.”