Sonoma middle school opens new maker lab

Altimira Middle School opened the doors to a new “maker lab” this fall, thanks to an $80,000 donation by the Rotary of Sonoma Valley raised in honor of member Carole Downing, who died last year.

A maker lab, or maker space, is a place where students can learn and use new technologies and equipment they may otherwise not have access to.

Altimira has hired a certified maker lab teacher, Audrey Fry, to “run” the room, said Altimira Principal Will Deeths.

Fry’s training included how to evaluate and use various equipment, as well as visiting other school maker spaces in the North Bay. The lab already has in place a 3D printer and vinyl cutter, with a laser cutter and desktop CNC production machine scheduled to arrive later in the year. Fry expects to soon be able to order computers to make physical computing projects with code, as well as hand and power tools.

Four mixed-grade classes are enrolled in the elective.

Fry said that Altimira’s lab is focused on three general categories – found and recycled crafts, physical computing and electronics and fabrication technology.

“Maker spaces provide a space for students to pursue their creativity while developing critical thinking and collaboration skills,” said Fry. “The ‘think, make, improve’ design process encourages students to persevere as they tinker with their designs to make them better and better. These skills – creativity, collaboration, communication, perseverance – combined with practical coding and design skills will help students be college and career ready.”

The first student projects have centered on recycled materials and craft supplies.

“Students have practiced ‘design thinking’ by making projects that include a client, the client’s problem, constraints, and then creating a solution to solve that client’s problem while working within the constraints,” said Fry. “We did this by creating a ‘garment for the end of the world’ by turning an IKEA shopping bag into something wearable and strategic, using limited time and supplies.”

That idea came courtesy of a group called Project H and Unprofessional Development, said Fry.

“Students came up with some really clever and creative garments that they showed off in a runway exposition in class,” said Fry.

Another assignment was to apply design thinking to a project using plastic bags. Students interviewed a client (friend, family member, etc.) and then created a plastic wallet, bag or phone case for them by ironing plastic bags together to create a plastic fabric. Students will be recording this and other projects on their own “Google Sites” webpages to track their work throughout the year.

Fry has also offered the classes some less structured “open make” time during which students can use any available materials and tools to make all sorts of projects. Projects have included a cat tree made of cardboard and a model raft made of duct tape and cork.

The next project Fry plans is for students to create cardboard carnival/arcade games. Fry showed the class a short documentary film called “Caine’s Arcade” and the class was eager to immediately start drawing pictures of their games, figuring out details with their partners, researching projects on the Internet, and scoping out the necessary materials in the room to start building.

The Maker Lab students will display their work at the Altimira Electives Fantastic Fall Festival on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Guests will have a chance to play the games that the students make.

The Carole Downing Maker Lab takes up the back half of M3, a centrally-located 600-square-foot room that the lab shares with science classrooms.

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