Reusing comes in all shapes and forms. Cardboard boxes can become robot bodies, mason jars make great candle holders, and sometimes, old ROTC shooting ranges can become aquaponics gardens, if you have the right imagination.
The new FabLab at Castlemont High School in Eastmont, Oakland is now open! I got a chance to attend their Open House with Steve Davee, Maker Education Initiative’s Director of Education. The main room is bursting with beautiful incongruence – things like Tupac Shakur poems displayed next to their 3D printed interpreted counterparts to sharpshooting awards dating back to 1956 stacked up alongside mountains of plywood and tanks of goldfish. It’s clear the FabLab creates an environment where students are encouraged to take full advantage of power tools, hand tools, laser cutter, a CNC router, a carvewright and 3D printers and let their imaginations run wild.
It has required a labor of love to make the FabLab a real addition to the school. At the backbone of the project are Tim Bremner and Danny Beesley. Tim is the director of the Sustainable Urban Design Academy (SUDA) at Castlemont High School. There are four classes in the SUDA program, one for each year of high school. Students rotate through work on five different projects. The program has a linked learning career pathways emphasis, so a job program is incorporated with academics.
At Laney College, Danny and his carpentry students have left their physical marks everywhere. Under an overhang in the center of campus there are three houses not models, but a full-size two story house, two tiny houses, and each in a different stage of construction. Although the Laney College FabLab is still in its early stages, the proposal already includes collaborations with staff from its Math, Culinary and Welding departments. Planned community partnerships will open the space to include students of all ages and skill levels.
Both Danny and Tim emphasize the benefits making provides to students who may not be a good fit for four-year colleges. Back in the days of shop class, students could get hands-on experience with trade skills. As more and more schools shifted to track all their students for college, many of those programs were cut. They see this re-interest in making as a whole new opportunity to give any student a leg up as a high school graduate.
I was so excited by their new perspective. At my high school, I took a lot of classes with the same cohort of students. Often those cohorts are divided into those with “strong academics” and “not so strong academics”. The FabLab allows for those borders to be completely broken down. Inclusivity is showing up in schools in a way I don’t think has ever been successful before. Academic strengths don’t serve as criteria in order to collaborate and exchange information. Most importantly, these students are truly engaged in learning.
The value in a makerspace comes from the people who fill it, more than the tools and supplies available. Students have exposure to an environment that encourages sharing lessons learned through experience. It’s clear the students have become strong thinkers and collaborators, both skills that will apply to life beyond an academic career. Things as basic as learning how to ask for help when you need it, and how to teach yourself, and how to teach others are often rare in a traditional classroom. Castlemont shows it might be time to start new traditions in our schools.
We spend a lot of time talking about the theory and best practices of making in education, but to see it in person is a different experience. The space and style of education has made an impact on a huge range of students in ways that only left me inspired. Castlemont is an amazing place, and I can’t wait to see what other ways it will serve as a leader in education.