Fusing creativity, design and technology: RI Mobile Maker Lab visits NEL/CPS

By Jen Cowart
Posted 10/18/17

By JEN COWART High school students are often asked what they want to do in the future for post-secondary schooling and a career, and oftentimes they are asked to choose between very different disciplines, such as art and technology for example.

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Fusing creativity, design and technology: RI Mobile Maker Lab visits NEL/CPS

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High school students are often asked what they want to do in the future for post-secondary schooling and a career, and oftentimes they are asked to choose between very different disciplines, such as art and technology for example.

Twenty-first century learners, however, are being encouraged not to leave anything out as they prepare for their future and are now being told that careers in advanced modern technology utilize it all: science, technology, engineering, math, art, creativity and design.

In essence, students don’t need to choose just one skill without incorporating some of the others. While many think that some of the old-school classes involving sewing, drafting and woodshop are irrelevant in today’s technology-filled world, the opposite is actually true, and those skills-along with the technology skills to go with them, are more relevant than ever.

That was one of the messages brought to the students at the New England Laborers’ Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy (NEL/CPS), which is Cranston’s third high school, and a public charter school, with an emphasis on readying students for construction careers.

On Oct. 11, the school was the first high school in the state to receive a visit from the RI Mobile Maker Lab, a new initiative which is a collaborative effort from many partners statewide, including IYRS School of Technology and Trades, Polaris Manufacturing Forward, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training and Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

“The mobile lab will be showing the kids some of the basic manufacturing skills needed to gain employment, out of high school, into college and beyond,” said NEL/CPS Director Dennis Curran. “The jobs of 20 years ago needed skills which were very different than the skills needed now. Things have really changed. As underclassmen now, they will be getting a look at the skills they will need to get a job after graduation. One of our technology teachers, Mike Giblin, was instrumental in connecting us to this opportunity.”

The lab, which fits approximately a dozen students at once, was set up with displays for the first visit, giving students a look at several types of advanced modern technologies being utilized in job fields today, as well as examples of the products created with them.

Those technologies included a 3D printer, a laser vinyl cutter, a sewing and embroidering machine, a CNC laser cutter, sculpting materials and various robots. As future visits take place, the inside of the lab will be changing to engage students in a more hands-on, experiential learning opportunity, and will be based on surveys the students were given during the first visit as to their general background knowledge and their interests.

According to Dr. Charles McLaughlin, a professor teaching technology education to future teachers at Rhode Island College, the mobile maker lab is the culmination of nearly two years of efforts by many who worked together to make it happen.

“We are so grateful for all who have supported this project, the first of its kind in Rhode Island,” he said. “Our Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce, Stefan Pryor, has been incredibly supportive.”

According to Chris Oliver, a partner in the project from IYRS School of Technology and Trades in Newport, the mobile lab is grant-funded for one year to start, with a goal of bringing educational, inspirational programming to high school students around the state. It is the hope that the initiative can be brought to middle schools, continuing education programs and more, as it expands.

According to Oliver, the 30-foot trailer, originally a car trailer, is completely modular so it can also be taken apart and set up in a gym or auditorium. The interior space is all white-board walls, so that anything can be written on them, such as descriptions of what is on display or directions for how to complete a project. On this particular visit, there was even a spot for selfies to be taken.

Creating the lab itself was also a collaborative effort.

“The tabletops and cabinetry were constructed with help from the students at IYRS and our marine systems faculty and students helped with all the electrical work,” he said. “Additionally, all of the products that we have on display today are consumer-grade machines, available to the general public. They are affordable, accessible machines.”

Also on-hand inside the mobile lab was Nora Meah, Director of Admissions for IYRS, and she was there to answer questions, to guide students and teachers through the various displays and to speak to them about the importance of career and technical education, as well as art, design and creativity in today’s advanced technological world.

She spoke with art teacher Jennifer DeGregorio and her class about the skills they are learning in their art classes today, and how they will be able to connect those artistic skills to technology and manufacturing jobs in the future. She spoke specifically about skills such as Computer Aided Drafting and Computer Aided Machinery as just two such examples.

“You need to learn the technology behind it, and you need people who can run the machines,” she said. “But, you also need people who know how to design the things that those machines are putting out. Art fits in well with all of this.”

Seth Weisman spoke to the students in a small group after their tour of the space, taking stock of their likes and dislikes, their interests and their general knowledge of computer science and technology.

“We will be using student input to determine your interests, your skill-sets, and we’ll be matching student needs and interests with our activities for future visits. We are looking to see how to best develop our programming and maker lab when we come back for the best student engagement,” he said, noting that there were no right or wrong answers to the “quiz” they were taking.

Giblin also told the students that prior to the mobile maker lab’s next visit he will be incorporating some of their classroom work in order to connect what they are doing in school to what they will be doing during the lab’s future visits.

For more information about the RI Mobile Maker Lab, visit www.rimakerlab.com or email information.

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