This article is part of a series of interviews with our partner organizations in the Making Spaces program. Read more Hub Highlights here.
Tell us a little bit about your organization and the learners that you serve!
Moonlighter FabLab is a 501(c)3 non-profit S.T.E.A.M. Learning Center and Fabrication Lab in Miami, Florida, dedicated to empowering makers with the skills, tools, and opportunities to shape a better future. For over 5 years we have offered the community a range of programs to encourage making at all ages including: after school sessions, field trips, and camps for elementary and middle school students, internships for high school students, a 10-week course for college students in partnership with The Idea Center at Miami Dade College, and monthly workshops for all ages. Our programs give learners real-world challenges and projects to design and build solutions for, often building and implementing the projects in the community to improve our city’s public spaces.
Moonlighter FabLab is proud to be a part of cohort 4 of Maker Ed’s Making Spaces program. As South Florida’s Making Spaces Hub, Moonlighter has identified its first 8 partner sites: Gulliver Preparatory, Belen, Centner Academy, Ransom Everglades School, The Cushman School, Pace High School, Felix Varela Senior High, and The Museum of Discovery and Science, all with the shared mission of co-building sustainable maker education programs that are relevant, inclusive, and meaningful. Now more than ever, the educational infrastructure of our country needs support. This program provides a space and an opportunity for educators to collaborate across institutions to work through the many challenges they are facing amidst the covid-19 re-imagining of virtual and hybrid education.
What challenges has your organization faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you adapted?
While the pandemic did cause our organization to close to the public, we quickly realized that we had to re-imagine the way we engaged our learners — especially for our summer camps! Thanks to support from The Miami Foundation and The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, we were able to purchase kits and materials and distribute them to every one of our campers across South Florida. Every single participant received a full tool box, a sketchbook, camp t-shirt, and materials for the theme of the week they were registered for. Everyone had access to an online platform that outlined each activity step-by-step if they wanted to work more independently, but the instructor also led everyone through the projects via a live stream. Each week, we had a guest speaker join us to share how the maker skills the students were learning actually helps them in their professional careers! We were not only able to pivot to online instruction, but our team was able to make it a completely new experience by using gamification and storytelling as a framework for STEAM learning. Students would follow a “Choose your own adventure” style story where they are presented with different challenges that they had to design and build solutions for that then affect the way they proceed. The children enjoyed a good blend of using real tools and materials while collaborating and interacting with other campers digitally. Although planning and logistics were completely different, we found this format to be really fun and engaging for the students. Also, because we were delivering the weekly materials, we were able to reach families that would otherwise not have been able to participate in an in-person camp since they live too far away from our space. In fact, outside of reaching students across the tri-county area, this year we even had makers join us from Canada for virtual camp. So these are the silver linings that are very exciting amidst all of the changes and challenges.
Why did you originally join the Making Spaces program?
Since we first opened our makerspace we knew that education would be a key part of our mission and we often referred to Maker Ed as an essential resource. We know that no matter how many programs we create, we won’t be able to reach every student in our region on our own. So the Making Spaces program was a perfect fit for us: broadening our reach by empowering other educators to integrate maker and project based learning principles in their classrooms. What we particularly appreciate is that the program is not prescriptive. Rather than telling every hub and site exactly how they should teach maker programs, they provide you with a wealth of research, information, and techniques so that each hub and site can identify and implement the methods that fit their respective values and goals. We mirror this approach by working with each site in a way that fosters co-building a maker curriculum that caters to the unique needs of their learners.
What we particularly appreciate is that the program is not prescriptive. Rather than telling every hub and site exactly how they should teach maker programs, they provide you with a wealth of research, information, and techniques so that each hub and site can identify and implement the methods that fit their respective values and goals.
How has participating in Making Spaces has helped your organization achieve its goals?
The Making Spaces program has helped us organize our work in ways that makes it easier to share with the community at large. Having access to the wealth of research and shared resources of a national network, having the support of experts from organizations across the country discussing various practices and techniques, and being able to collaborate across various institutions is an essential part of the program. The sharing model catalyzes innovative ways of reimagining education. This is what makes this program so transformational.
Tell us about a recent “win” or success you’ve had!
There are two wins that we are particularly proud of, our community organized PPE Production and Virtual Maker Faire Miami. Early in the year as the pandemic began to spread, a group called Open Source Medical Supplies was formed to share research, data, and design files for Face Shields, Face Masks, and other protective equipment. Regional groups were formed to coordinate local efforts and we collaborated with the Orlando maker community in the Central and South Florida group which received 13 tons of PETG sheet plastic from Coca Cola Florida, which was then distributed across Florida to be cut into Face Shields. The regional group made 30,000 face shields and thousands of face masks, ear savers, and more. Our Miami community (miamifightingcovid.com), created and distributed over 8,000 face shields and fabricated over 10,000 Faulkner headbands. This effort had dozens of organizations and individuals collaborating in the effort – from schools with 3D printers making the headbands, to manufacturing companies helping mass produce some of the elements, to volunteers who would help assemble them and distribute them to front line medical workers. It was a beautiful example of the power of distributed manufacturing and community coming together to solve a problem. To date, the OSMS group which has now expanded to many parts of the globe, has made over 16,000,000 pieces of protective equipment. And it all happened with the collective efforts of passionate and caring individuals who wanted to help be a part of the solution.
The other event we’re proud of was the transition of our annual 7th annual Maker Faire Miami event to a virtual platform. In addition to our maker talks, we had a virtual power wheel racing competition, a virtual make-a-thon, and live workshops to maintain the high level of interactivity that people know and love about Maker Faire events. We also had people join us from all around the world so although the event was wildly different than in year’s past, we were able to welcome more people from more places than ever before. What an opportunity for our local makers to showcase their work to a world stage! And for those who were not able to join on the dates of the event – all of the sessions were recorded and uploaded to our Maker Faire Miami YouTube Channel so that they can be watched any time, anywhere! We are excited by the fact that these challenges the world is facing actually presents a range of opportunities to reimagine the way you can broaden your impact.
Are there other makers, organizations, and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?
We are very proud that South Florida is a diverse community with a robust maker network serving makers of all ages and backgrounds. We are constantly inspired and energized by the collective efforts of each of the organizations and institutions working hard to empower a generation of young makers. South Florida’s youngest makers are able to enroll in the Play, Make, Share Program at REM Learning Center, a Maker Corps. Alumni hub. Code/Art Miami has been working towards inspiring girls through CS educational programs. Dibia Dream provides underserved youth with various programs that combine STEM and athletics. Witch Doctor Jr. at MakeMIA teaches kids to build their own robots from a professional BattleBots team led by Andrea and Mike Gellatly. We’ve also partnered with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and NASA to research and develop innovations at the intersection of engineering and botany to prototype new ways of growing plants in space. There are so many orgs doing incredible work – from VR and coding with 01, to supporting innovative and entrepreneurial educators at Edtech Miami, there really is a space for every kind of exploration. This is why we are committed to strengthening this network and encouraging as much collaboration between these amazing organizations as possible!
Making Spaces is a 30-month professional learning and capacity building program designed to support local leadership around maker education and build the foundation for lasting, embedded change in pedagogy, community, and culture. We are currently accepting applications for organizations to join our fifth cohort of Hubs!
Learn More About Moonlighter Fab Lab