Makerspace at Lyme-Old Lyme High School inspires future engineers

Old Lyme — On a recent November afternoon, the Makerspace at Lyme-Old Lyme High School was bustling with students working on projects.

Some students used a computer program to create designs they planned to engrave into wood slabs for a clock project. Other students sanded down wood, or loaded their computer files into a machine called a CNC router, that then carved the designs into the wood slabs.

The Makerspace, the school's technology, engineering and design lab, consists of a large, open room for students to create projects and work on machines, including a plasma cutter, mills and saws, as well as an adjacent design lab with computers and a 3D printer.

Tyler Clark, 15, a sophomore, sat at a table during his class last Monday while painting in the design on his wooden clock, which he had used the computer programs and CNC machine to engrave with the words Lyme-Old Lyme XC and two winged feet, the cross country team's logo. 

Clark said he enjoys the "hands-on experience" in the high school's makerspace.

As part of an elective, Introduction to Engineering Technology, Clark has learned how to code while working on robots and how to use a computer to make designs and "toolpaths" for the CNC router to carve the design into the wood.

"Knowing I want to be an engineer in the future, I thought it would be a really good idea to take this class," Clark said.

Bill Derry, a technology and engineering teacher who led the class along with teacher Jonathan Goss, said project-based learning prepares students for the future. Derry also serves on the Board of Education in East Lyme.

Lyme-Old Lyme High School is part of the growing "Maker movement," which includes schools, universities, communities and companies.

A video showcasing the school's Makerspace and students' projects was shown during the first International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. About 300 people attended and listened to speakers from Yale University, Georgia Tech, MIT, and Stanford. Lyme-Old Lyme was the only high school to submit a video.

"The lab is viewed as a library of potential solutions and opportunities," Derry says in the video. "This philosophy better mirrors life. As adults, most of our learning occurs when we have the need to find a solution to a problem. Our Makerspace is providing our students with the skills needed to be effective problem-solvers and the inspiration to be the next generation of innovators."

At Lyme-Old Lyme High School, the Makerspace was created during the high school's renovation project, which was completed in 2013. Derry said many of the machines were purchased with the help of either federal grants, or grants from the Lyme-Old Lyme Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group.

Universities are recognizing the value of hands-on experience and Makerspaces. At the high school level, the program not only allows students to develop a skill set for their future careers, but also gives them an opportunity to find their passion, Derry said, whether by working on the FIRST Robotics team or designing an electric vehicle. 

"They're going off to college with a pretty clear idea of why they're going into engineering," he said.

This passion for engineering developed in high school and hands-on experience may help students stick with engineering programs in college, which typically have a high dropout rate, he said.

Sarah Behringer, a 2012 graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme and a 2016 graduate of Cornell University, works as an electrical engineer at Eaton. She benefitted from courses and machinery at Lyme-Old Lyme that were there even before the official creation of the Makerspace. She said her courses exposed her to a variety of technology and she learned skills, such as how to operate a mill, which proved helpful in college and now during her job. 

"I see myself today using knowledge I first learned in high school," she said.

Sal Fava, a 2011 graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme, who recently graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology and now works as a mechanical engineer at Ford, said the program's practical experience was key. He participated on the robotics team and learned how to design parts on computers, among other skills.

"I got a lot of hands-on experience and a lot of actual engineering experience, whereas other schools you're limited to what they have in the classroom," he said. "That was really invaluable."

Project-based "Making" has been embraced for years in subjects such as shop and art, but today there are opportunities in all subjects from music to calculus.

Among the driving factors behind the movement are advances in technology and information, with the ease of accessing information on the internet. Affordable and many times free software enable innovators to draw 3D models, edit music, photos and video or write code all from a home computer or in some cases even phones, explained Derry. CNC equipment and 3D printing have made manufacturing accessible, faster and less expensive.

Makerspaces are "communities where ideas can be shared, collaborated on, or just displayed" and the "communities also provide cross-pollination between disciplines," he added.

At Lyme-Old Lyme, students can also race an electric car, which they built, at Lime Rock, and build robots as part of the Techno Ticks, the high school's FIRST Robotics team.

An electric guitar, a brick-oven pizza paddle, and robots are among the objects students have created in the makerspace.

Derry said he thinks the makerspace gets students excited about the possibilities for what they could make in the future. As students see their peers working on projects, they gain the awareness that they too can make something of their own creation — and learn during the process.

"There's really no limit to creating what you want to build," Derry said.


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