‘Maker’ culture hits SVHS with launch of new project space

Two major education trends – learning while doing and work-based learning – collide in the best possible way in Sonoma Valley High School’s brand new “maker space.”

It’s a technology driven learning concept whose time has come, say “maker” advocates.

The concept of a “maker space,” or maker lab, stems from what’s become known as the “maker culture” of the last few years, in which building tools, space and collaboration are shared in a community setting to emphasize learning through hands-on exploration.

Casey Shea, a consultant with the Sonoma County Office of Education, says a maker space allows students to “bring an idea from their minds to their hands as quickly as possible.”

Shea helped the high school install its maker space, and is currently working closely with elementary, middle and high schools through the county to develop their own.

“Easy, frequent access to this kind of equipment is a game changer in the world of career and technical education,” says Shea.

On the grand opening tour in February, a dozen local donors crowded over a laser beam in the large airy SVHS Maker Space room that was formerly the high school’s No Name Cafe.

The space has an industrial vibe, with two big-ticket digital-?manufacturing machines anchoring opposite walls. The new $11,000 Full Spectrum laser cutter enables students to create computer designs and then prototype their creations using cardboard, acrylic, plastic or wood.

The high-end $3,400 Makerbot 3D printer allows professional quality 3D modeling and small-scale manufacturing.

Shea helped Sonoma Valley choose its tools, software and equipment. Down the road, the high school hopes to add another 3D printer, an electrical engineering station and a bank of computers so that the room can eventually serve as a more robust engineering classroom. The school’s Engineering, Design and Technology Academy currently has 68 students across three grades but the goal for the program is 100 to 120 students, according to vice principal Andrew Ryan. Right now, only Academy students have access to the space, though it may eventually be opened to a wider student audience. Teachers in related disciplines, such as physics and metal shop, are being offered training on the equipment.

High-profile local donors joined board members from the Rotary Club and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation on a tour earlier this month. The total cost of the space came in at around $40,000, with half contributed by Rotary and the rest matched by individual donors.

Ryan’s advisory board of local business leaders were excited to see the space on the tour and several offered to send employees to further train the students on the equipment. Sonoma students will also visit companies to see the machines in action at real workplaces.

Engineering teacher Kelly Kennedy sees the maker lab as an effective hands-on enhancement to the curriculum.

“In the weeks since the equipment arrived, juniors and seniors in the engineering academy have used the laser cutter to cut out the walls and build scale models as part of an architectural design project,” Kelly said.

Students in the WISE club (Women in Science and Engineering) recently used the laser cutter for a fundraiser, selling custom-engraved wooden valentines on campus.

Across the county, elementary, middle and high schools are all taking the leap.

According to Shea, almost two-dozen elementary, middle and high schools across the county have some form of maker space. In addition to consulting, Shea teaches a popular Project Make elective as part of Analy High School’s digital manufacturing curriculum. His students develop, prototype, produce, market and sell their products in the real world. Shea has been active in the national “maker” movement, which had its building blocks in Sebastopol via Make magazine founder Dale Dougherty.

According to the Sonoma County Office of Education, fewer than 30 percent of students who graduate from high schools in Sonoma County pursue a four-year degree right after graduation.

“Providing students with engaging, relevant and sought-after 21st century skills during high school is crucial,” said Ryan.

Sonoma Valley School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said she “loves” the maker lab.

“This is exactly the kind of forward-looking, real world learning that we are so eager to bring to ?all Sonoma students,” said Carlomagno.

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