New Makerspace at DCHS Offers Students Opportunity to Broaden Their Horizons

September 22, 2018
By: Dwayne Page

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.

Students at DeKalb County High School are putting that often quoted inspirational maxim by writer William Arthur Ward into practice these days with the addition of a Makerspace at the school library or what is now known as the media center.

Funded by a $10,000 grant, the Makerspace transitions the school library from a traditional setting to a more modern learning environment providing students the opportunity to explore creativity and enhance critical thinking skills and problem solving through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In the Makerspace, students have the ability to create things using 3D printers, Robotics, virtual reality technology, and more. A multitude of materials are available for students to explore and innovate on their own terms expanding the library’s reach beyond being merely a place where books are housed to a full-service learning, research, and project space.

Students can make things from key chains to musical instruments through the technology. The Makerspace provides hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.   It is truly an environment where students are only limited by their imagination. It mixes all aspects of STEM–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math–and sprinkles it with imagination for creation and exploration and may help influence and inspire students for a future career path based on their interests.

School administrators hosted a luncheon and Ribbon Cutting Thursday at DCHS to make the formal announcement of the new Makerspace and to show it off to business, government, and civic leaders of the community.

Dr. Kathy Bryant, Supervisor of Instruction, said the idea for a Makerspace at DCHS came from math teacher Amy Fricks. The concept was pitched to fellow members of the School District’s 19 member STEM Leadership Team but it was during a STEM conference in May when the dream started to become a reality after Fricks and fellow math teacher Cody Burton were made aware of grant funding.

(VIDEO BELOW SHOWS School Board member Shaun Tubbs observing students in the DCHS media center/library/ makerspace operating robots “Linda” and “Terry” from Ipads. The robots can be made to talk, move their heads, and move across the floor. The demonstrations show students how robotics can be used for fun as well as for industrial use in factories.

IMG_1290 from dwayne page on Vimeo.

“We went to a STEM conference this past spring in Nashville and over lunch with a couple of people there, Ms Fricks and I talked to them about our ideas of what we wanted to do here. They  asked us how much money we would need. We said any amount would be appreciated.  They said what about $5,000? But right before we left Mr. Jim Russell suggested that we write a proposal for a $10,000 grant, funded through Bicentennial Volunteers Incorporated (BVI), a TVA retiree non-profit organization. We worked with Dr. Bryant and got a fully comprehensive grant application sent within a couple of days and learned soon afterward that the grant had been approved,” said Burton, member of the STEM Leadership Team

“You are so lucky to get this grant. The reason we perked up when we heard from you is because you have young people who are teaching with a passion in a rural community that have a dream,” said Rachel Crickmar, TVA STEM Education Program Manager. Mr. Russell, BVI President, met with a couple of your teachers (Burton and Fricks) at a conference and was real impressed with their innovation and ideas and future thinking. This was a grant BVI gave the school based on their proposal (for the Makerspace), said Crickmar.

After receiving the grant, Fricks said the school began obtaining the equipment for the Makerspace and located it in a portion of the library. Although some books were removed to make room, the library still has an ample supply.

“When they came up with this idea, I thought it was great. We were going to make more use of the room (library). I found a man we were able to donate some of the books to. He was able to recycle those books and send them to other school districts that could actually better utilize them. Those books were antiquated and it was time they found a new home. We have kept and made a special place for the memorial books to honor those who have donated books to us,” said Lisa Craig, Library and Media Center Specialist.

Burton said the Makerspace is intended to help prepare students for their future careers.

“We are supplying these students with skills they can use post secondary. That is not just including the future collegiate students. We are prepping students for the workforce. We are trying to make sure they are exposed to the technology and have the creativity, self sufficiency, and reliancy to do these things on their own. We want them to come in here and explore these things which will prep them for whatever post secondary they decide to do. It is really a continuation of what our Career and Technical Education program has already been doing for our students. We are preparing them for the workforce,” he said.

“We identified the major sectors our students typically go into (careers) and we tried to add equipment and technology (for Makerspace) to start training them in those basic skills and expose them to things they are going to see in those industries,” said Fricks, member of the STEM Leadership Team.

“One our largest industries in Tennessee is automotive manufacturing. That industry is moving more toward 3D printing of parts for vehicles. If you can imagine assembling a car that took 18 parts previously there may have been up to 18 different manufacturing subcontractors. Now those parts can be printed as one piece. In order for us to survive in these small communities with automotive manufacturing we have to get on board with what the technology is because the fact is a lot of these manufacturing facilities are moving toward having a bunch of 3D printers so if they are going into that field, our students need to be exposed to that. We are now on the cutting edge of technology at DCHS and our kids are getting to see a lot of things that students in other schools are not seeing. They can now carry those skills with them and make an informed decision after they graduate what they might want to do next,” Fricks said.

Assessments through the Makerspace will also be helpful to students in choosing a future career path.

“I received a work based learning grant last year and we had some industries that helped us with it and those who donated money to us. We were able to establish a career center within the Makerspace. The career center has 12 computers with 24 inch monitors that we use. We will be doing career assessments on students. Where they are and need to be and what classes they need to take. It will be a good tool for the kids especially coming in as a freshman to assess and get them on the right path for a career especially a STEM Career. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)  covers about every career you can think of. I want to be here for businesses and industries and I need their input and what they can do for our programs to better help us send out students ready and prepared,” said Brad Leach, Career and Technical Education Director at DCHS.

Since its launch with the start of the school year, the Makerspace has been a big hit and students and teachers are making good use of it.

“Students come in here all the time now. They love the 3D printers and robots. They even come in here during their lunch time so they can use the sound recording. Everything is technology based. We needed to get on board the technology train and that’s what we have done with this Makerspace. It’s pretty awesome,” added Craig.

“We have several teachers now who bring their classes in here and take advantage of the technology we have. We want the Makerspace to be a central hub in this school where students in all areas can come together,” said Fricks.

Jenny Norris, Assistant DCHS Principal said she is grateful to all those who helped bring this new technology to the school.

“This has been a big collaborative effort not only from the teachers and staff in the building but district and county wide. The school coordinated health program got some flexible seating for students to use while they are in here (library). Ms Fricks, Mr. Burton, Dr. Bryant, and Ms. Craig have worked really hard alongside Mr. Leach to get this equipment. They have been really dedicated to this. It has come along very quickly and its going to be a really good thing for our students. We’re now exposing them to music recording software, virtual reality, robotics,  and other things that they were before not being exposed to in the classroom,” she said.

Dr. Bryant said plans are now to expand the opportunities provided by the Makerspace and STEM to other students in the school system.

“We are hosting Stem Nights. We have two this year. One is coming up very soon on October 2 from 6-8 p.m. for Pre-K through 8th grade students. We are not limiting STEM or the Makerspace to high school students. We are making it available to all students in the district. One way is through the STEM Night and we hope to have many community members come out and bring their children but they can even come if they don’t have children,” she said.

“We are also implementing After School STEM Programs. Mr. Burton will travel to each school once a week doing After School programs conducting STEM activities with all students in grades K-12.  Ms. Fricks will  host an After School STEM Makerspace Club on Thursdays every month. We will be hosting field trips to the Makerspace busing students from each school over here for visits and those field trips will be designed based on their (students) standards. This next year we will be hosting six field trips but we would like to increase that and build the capacity  of our teachers to come into the Makerspace and become familiar with all the technology and how to use it and teach the students how to use it at all grade levels, ” Dr. Bryant continued.

“We have a five year vision for STEM in DeKalb County and have applied for a $100,000 STEM designation grant for DCHS. We have passed our first self assessment and we have an interview next week. They will come and interview us to see what we already have implemented for STEM”.

“We are also looking to partner with NHC Health Care Center and the Webb House Retirement Center to implement an IGEM Classroom partnership where we would take students to these facilities. The students could interview some of the residents there and talk about some of their needs. The students could then create technology to take back  and show the residents. We feel that would be a fulfilling project for both the residents of the facilities and for our students,” she said.

Dr. Bryant said DCHS has taken a giant step forward in technology in a short time and she couldn’t be more pleased.

“This all started with one small dream and it has evolved into a reality for us with a lot of hard work. Three months ago Ms. Fricks said I would love to put a Makerspace in the high school one day. Three months later it happened,” said Dr. Bryant.