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HHS club embraces maker movement

Posted: February 28, 2018

by Judy Stringer

While most Hudson High School students hit snooze on a recent Wednesday morning – Wednesdays are a late-start day – about a dozen teens buzz around the school’s 1,200-square-foot “makerspace.” A junior prints 3D plastic motor components for a Styrofoam airplane, a sophomore uses a laser cutter to construct a dice tower for board games, a pair of students sews felt pieces together to make stuffed animals, and several build bridges. Yes, they are literally building mini-bridges out of balsa wood.

“That’s the beauty of this place,” said senior Michael Lang. “I can think of something I want to make at home and come in here the next day and try it. I will know in about two or three hours if it works. That turnaround time is critical for innovation. The more ideas you can throw out, the more solutions you can find.”

Makerspaces are creative, DIY areas where students gather to create, collaborate and learn. There are two things everyone should know about HHS’s makerspace. First, anything goes. Well, anything that involves the act of making. Lang said members of the school’s Makerspace Club are as likely to be sewing or crocheting as they are coding an app or building a robot.   

Second, this is a student-driven movement. Lang was the impetus behind the space, approaching Principal Brian Wilch with the idea just two months after entering the high school as a freshman. By January 2015, the Hudson School Board had approved a Makerspace Club, and staff began clearing out a periodicals storage room inside the media center for the fledging group.

Wall-mounted bookcases, which used to hold decades of magazines and newspapers, are now stocked with saws, drills, soldering equipment and craft supplies. Other shelves were removed to make room for computer stations, 3D printers, a wood-topped workbench and groups of tables where students can work and collaborate. Former periodical filing cabinets store student-made blueprints, project plans and prototypes.  

The irony of swapping dusty and dated publications with tools and technology is not lost on Hudson Library Media Specialist Marsha Curry, the Makerspace Club adviser.

“Students today access information digitally anyhow,” she said. “Now it’s a place where they can come and create something new.”

Lang and fellow seniors Andrew McDonald and Nicole Neifert run the Makerspace Club and man the lab on Wednesday mornings. McDonald said he starts many newbies on the club’s newest tool, a CO2 laser engraving and cutting machine donated by the Quagliata family. Using software called Inventor to digitally map out where the laser will cut, students have etched glass, engraved wood and sliced sturdy sheets of acrylic into an array of shapes and sizes. After creating in the two-dimensional environment, some students add another dimension with 3D design programs and 3D printers that have been used to make – among other things – plastic keychains, chess pieces and a mousetrap.  

Others might choose to sew blankets for newborns or build a light board. Club members pick what they want to make, Niefert said, while the club as a group votes on collaborative projects.

The goal, Lang said, is to get club members exposed to as many tools as possible.

“Who here had used a laser before?” he shouted out to makerspace peers with no response. “See, nobody. Now everyone has and they have learned through failure and through success. … We encourage kids to design something new and to think outside the box. In the real world, you will have to create and collaborate and you will have to design something. These are very applicable skills.”

The Makerspace Club’s tentacles have reached beyond its media center lab. In 2016, the club sent its first team to the Summit County Engineer’s annual Miniature Bridge Building Competition and came home with first place. Last year, it entered two teams, and each placed in the top 10.

Then there’s the unique partnership with the Hudson Visitor Center, which started when the center asked club members to create plastic 3D mice it could hang on a miniature clock tower trinket. Since then, students have designed and produced Hudson license plate frames and Ohio-, Explorer- and WRA-logoed keychains, which are sold in the visitor center. McDonald estimates that the club has earned $400 from its visitor center merchandise – all of which is used to purchase makerspace supplies.

In addition, plans are brewing for projects that will integrate other maker-type resources in the building, particularly the woodshop.

“We’ve also talked about integrating with photo classes to engrave photos on wood, for instance, or a collaboration with computer science classes to do a circuitry project with coding,” McDonald said.

The seniors admit, however, much of these burgeoning ideas will have to be carried on by Hudson’s next generation of makers, which appear to be growing in number. Lang started the group in 2014 with only three members. The club had about 10 members in 2016. This school year, 44 people have signed on. McDonald estimates that half of them are freshman or sophomores.

“We are just really proud to have turned this space into this really awesome place where kids can come and make and create,” Lang said.

“It is a community we can all call home,” McDonald added, “and I think that is one of the most important things about our club.”

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