Written By: Andrew Robitaille (Media Specialist - Hudson High School)
Students at Hudson High School met with their principal a few years ago to propose the creation of a makerspace. They wanted to establish a place where students could tinker, explore, create, and pursue passion projects. The Makerspace Club started with a handful of engineer-minded students who gathered informally to tinker with electronics and play around with a variety of fabrication projects.
When I joined the Hudson High School staff in 2018 as the new Media Specialist, I assumed responsibility for the Makerspace, which was experiencing a significant growth in equipment and financial support from the administration and community organizations. The Makerspace occupied a sizable room adjacent to the media center, which had formerly been used for periodical archives. The students were gung ho and brought with them experience in engineering, aeronautics, computer-aided design, robotics, and chemistry. I was a deer in headlights! I didn’t know how to use a 3D printer, a laser engraver, or even a soldering iron. I had a degree in library and information science, not electrical engineering!
At first I fumbled around and had no clue how I could support these brilliant students. I had an entire media center to run, staff and students to connect with, and procedures to establish. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and had too many balls in the air.
Over the weeks, though, I stopped beating myself up over the things that I did not know or could not control. I was not knowledgeable about CAD or building drones. But that was okay. What I could do was gather resources for my students, find opportunities for them to extend their skills, reach out to other educators with more experience, form partnerships with community organizations, and lean on my students to train each other and teach the teacher.
By the winter of my first year, I was bringing my students to STEM competitions, visiting other Makerspaces, participating in makerfaires, forming partnerships with businesses and non-profits, applying for grants, and tapping into the resources of local universities. Once I started reaching out to others, the floodgates opened. Many more people offered their help to grow the Makerspace.
What used to be a small group of tinkerers was growing into a flourishing club with an increased presence in the community. I partnered with the Young Entrepreneur Institute, which provided guidance and opportunities for my students to expand the Makerspace into a self-sustaining club. My students started making and selling merchandise at farmers markets and other community events. People increasingly approached us to make products, such as custom mugs, coasters, t-shirts, signs, Christmas ornaments, keychains, and so on. My students learned valuable skills in setting prices, negotiating work contracts, meeting deadlines, ordering materials, and budgeting a small business. Orders started flying in from individuals and departments throughout our school district, as well as people in the community, including the Hudson Visitor Center, which sells our merchandise in their shop.
I also saw the value in connecting with non-profit organizations in my community. I began writing grants and forming partnerships with NPOs, including a veteran’s home, an assisted-living facility, and the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. My Makerspace students began creating and donating merchandise to worthwhile causes. We partnered with a second-grade class to collaboratively design, produce, and sell ornaments to raise funds for Australian bushfire relief. The second-graders took a field trip to the high school to work with my Makerspace students to make the ornaments.
I have been amazed by the outpouring of support I have received from my school district and community. I discovered that there is an endless supply of support if you just ask for it. The most important thing I have learned during this journey is to make connections. People want to help you, especially when they know that their support is leaving a positive imprint on kids. There are a lot of people out there that will gladly lend their knowledge, money, and time. When other educators approach me about starting a makerspace in their school, I tell them to tap into the resources around them. Don’t dwell on the costs. Grant money will flow in if you take the time to ask for it. People in your community will donate time and materials. Local businesses will support you, as will the universities. Create a mission. Don’t just make things to make things. Use the makerspace to teach students entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
When I first took over the Hudson High School Makerspace, I agonized over all the things I did not know. Then I made a choice to focus on my strengths. I am a media specialist. I find resources and make connections. Once I realized that these qualities were even more valuable than understanding complex engineering concepts, the Hudson High School Makerspace found its footing and launched into exciting, new directions.
To this day I still don’t know how to build a drone or design a robot. I probably never will. I’ll let the students figure that out.