Inside the Makerspace: a place for learning Yankee ingenuity

by Tucker Adams, Liam O’Neal, and Gavin Young    by Tucker Adams, Liam O’Neal, and Gavin Young   

Mr. Paul Meinersmann

A Makerspace is a place where people with shared interests, specifically in computing and technology, can go to share or work on projects with others. In the St. George School library, there is such a place. Maintained by Mr. Paul Meinersmann, the school’s technology director, it’s an exciting new space. Classes work in the space when they are ready to create projects that match what they’ve learned in class. Recently for example, 5th graders etched designs inspired by Native American art into pieces of slate with the laser cutter. Middle-level kids can go there during lunch recess on Wednesdays and Thursdays to work on and share projects.

Our small group of three reporters went to the Makerspace to ask Mr. Meinersmann some questions about just what he does up there. When asked about what tools he has in the Makerspace, he replied,  “Here in the Makerspace we have two large tools. Last year we were given the 3D printer by the Perloff Family Foundation, and we’ve used it for a variety of projects. This year, with some money that was donated, and then some matching funds that we’ve raised, we purchased a laser cutter. Now, the laser cutter is a pretty amazing tool, because we can cut paper, fabric, wood, acrylics, engrave glass or stone, or on wood, on fabric, and so there are a variety of things with that.”

We then asked him what projects were happening in the space now. “Well, we just wrapped up a laser-cutting project with the 2nd grade where each of those students who are studying a different animal this year drew an animal, and we went through a few iterations of them. So they did a first draft, and we cut it out on the laser cutter and gave them some feedback, and they did a second draft. So ultimately each kid has their drawing, and then cardboard cutout, and then the final wood cut-out. I think they’re going to paint them up and make shoebox dioramas using those animals they’ve been studying.”

The next question for Paul was about what tools were his favorites. “Well, the laser cutter’s pretty amazing, with the number of things we can do in terms of taking flat objects like those kids did with the drawings, and also look at how we can do three-dimensional drawings. But then there’s also more advanced things we can do. For example, the marsh alewive project is looking at how we can take the topography of the watershed of the marsh and break that down into different layers and cut each layer out in the laser cutter and assemble it as a three-dimensional map of the watershed.”

Mr. Meinersmann was then asked what he wants to see in the future for the space. “It’s not so much what’s in the space, but I’d like the students across the curriculum, across the school, utilizing the tools in the space that ultimately end up producing a final product. The challenge is getting it involved in more classes. I also want to have kids come to me and say, ‘Hey, I want to build something,’ and then work with me to come up with how to make that happen.”

Afterwards, we tested some of the things inside the space, like the BeeBots. The BeeBots are $75 tools for teaching young people programming. There are a number of buttons on top of the little machines, like forward, backward, left, right, and go. You basically program it to go on a path. After playing with those, we asked him to tell us anything he may have missed. “So, we talked earlier about the BeeBots, as a way to make this space accessible to the younger kids. We also have things like the Arduino, the Sparkfun Inventor Kit used to control sensors, or motors, or servos, to collect data and control a vehicle or a robotic arm. Then we’ve got little pieces we can loan out. For example, Mrs. England (St. George’s science teacher) currently has a thing called a pocket lab, to capture data that’s happening right at the moment, while it’s being created. Then you can download that data to measure a variety of things, like different types of force as you throw the object, acceleration, temperature, etc.  It’s an amazing tool that I think has been used with the 6th grade recently.”

Some of us 7th graders also go to the Makerspace on Wednesdays and Thursdays to use something called a Raspberry Pi. It is a $35 computer that can be used to learn programming and algorithms. It really is a good deal, because it comes installed with your normal computer things, plus a Raspberry Pi exclusive Minecraft Pi Edition.

Mr. Mike Felton, the school’s superintendent says about the Makerspace, “The Makerspace is both an innovative force and something that helps us return to our roots.  Students learn about new design software and how to transform ideas into reality using a 3D Printer and laser cutter.  However, at its heart, the Makerspace is about tinkering, inventing, and Yankee ingenuity—characteristics of every strong Maine community.”

Yes, the Makerspace is a wonderful place for all ages, and we would love to see it grow and expand across the many years to come.

Dontae’s buffalo etching

(Adams, O’Neal and Young are 7th grade students at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Liam O’Neal

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