The next session focused on makerspaces, a concept which is in its infancy in Mississippi, but seeing wider adoption in California and other technology-focused states. The session was moderated by Ken Montgomery, the executive director of Design Tech High School, a tech focused public school in the San Mateo Union school district of California within Silicon Valley. The panelists were Lisa Regalla of the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which recently opened a maker space they bill as the world’s first early childhood fab (fabrication) lab; Smita Kolhatkar a STEM educator from the Palo Alto Unified School District; and Casey Shea of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

In 2014, Smita helped launch the first school maker space in Palo Alto at the school district’s Baron Park Elementary School. The maker space, which is available to all students, combines low tech and high tech activities, including coding, electronics, sewing, legos, movie-making, and 3D printing. Smita emphasized the importance of involving the local community and harnessing community members and businesses for donations and volunteer support. (In at least one respect, Jackson, Mississippi, is keeping pace with Palo Alto. Brown Elementary School launched their own maker space last year, offering similar opportunities to students. A shout-out to Darko and Catherine Sarenac for the great work they are doing!)

Sonoma County schools have made an even broader commitment to maker education with the appointment of Casey Shea as their full-time Curriculum Coordinator for Maker Education. Shea launched the nation’s first Project Make program at Analy High School as part of the Sonoma County CTE (Career and Technical Education) program. The Project Make program began as a partnership with their Sonoma County neighbor, Make Media, the publisher of Make Magazine and creator of the iconic Maker Faire movement. In his new role, Casey is working to expand maker spaces and events to schools throughout the county and has even created a design lab at the county school offices.

Lisa Regalla discussed the Bay Area Discovery Museum launch of the world’s first Early Childhood Fab Lab, which introduces young children to fabrication using tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and vinyl cutters. While the panelists in this session exclusively represented institutions from the Bay Area, the panel did discuss broadening maker education opportunities to economically and culturally diverse communities across the nation. Regalla, for instance, discussed how her museum has outfitted a mobile maker space that allows them to reach communities that might not otherwise visit their museum. She also emphasized that the Bay Area Discovery Museum works hard to ensure that money is not a barrier to participating in the museum’s programs. The museum offers a “pay only what you can” program to ensure that no guest is turned away.   

All of the panelists were quick to point out, starting a makerspace doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition – it can be as simple as gathering donations of simple hand tools, cardboard boxes and glue sticks from the local community.

A short coffee break followed the second session, which gave me the opportunity to chat with the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Matt Richardson and Cynthia Solomon, a true computing pioneer who created Logo, the first programing language for kids, in 1967 alongside the famed educator and computer science visionary Seymour Papert.


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Photo: Fab Lab at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (Paris, France) by Benoît Prieur, used under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.