PERRYVILLE — The task was a deceptively simple one: design a device that will float between the two blue lines on the homemade wind tunnel set up at the front of the room.
With a variety of everyday materials — such as styrofoam cups, paper bags, coffee filters, pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks — at their disposal, the group of about 30 Perryville Middle School students dove right in.
Some went for the trial-and-error approach, feeding a few of the materials into the bottom of the wind tunnel and laughing as they immediately shot back out the top. Others were more methodical, using coffee filters and pipe cleaners to construct a parachute of sorts on top of a cup or taping popsicles to a cup to make it heavier.
There are no wrong answers — and no real right ones either. The students’ ability to think creatively is the only limit and that, even more so than the variety of technology lining the room, is what the Perryville Middle Makerspace is all about.
“I almost always say ‘Go for it,’” said Scott Dellosso, a PVMS teacher who heads up the Makerspace. “I don’t want this to look like a regular classroom.”
Makerspaces, which can best be described as a cross between the DIY movement and the latest technological trends, have recently begun cropping up all over the country. Cecil County got its first Makerspace last spring when one opened at Rudy Park in Elkton but the Perryville space is the first at a county school.
At PVMS, the counters on the side of the classroom are lined with the latest technology, including Sphero robots, two 3-D printers, podcasting equipment and a green screen. One unassuming cardboard box is simply labeled “drones.”
The majority of that technology is funded through grants from local organizations including the IKEA Distribution Center in Perryville, the Town of Perryville, the Port Deposit VFW, W.L. Gore and York Building Products as well as the Maryland State Education Association and CCPS.
All that technology not only attracts grants, it serves as a pretty good advertisement for the space itself, so Dellosso said he wasn’t surprised when he received more than 50 applications to join when he launched the Makerspace at the beginning of the school year. He accepted 54 of those applications, with more still on a waitlist, and also had nine teachers and a high school student volunteer to help out.
Jim Lewis, an eighth-grader at the school, signed up specifically to use the 3-D printers, noting that objects that would have taken days and multiple machines to make years ago can now be created with the click of a mouse.
“This is what tech education should be,” he said. “It should be about what the technology is going to be in 20 or 30 years.”
That’s a statement Dellosso wholeheartedly agrees with, pointing to a U.S. Department of Labor study that found that 65 percent of students entering school today will eventually work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. It’s a philosophy Dellosso has been applying for years by implementing similar technology with the Destination Imagination teams he coaches at Perryville Middle and Perryville High School.
But those teams can only have about seven students each so when a classroom opened up at Perryville Middle this year, Dellosso realized a Makerspace would be the perfect way to offer these opportunities to more kids.
The Makerspace sessions generally take place for about an hour and a half after school on Tuesdays and consist of an open maker activity, such as the wind tunnel task, followed by some more structured instruction time and then individual work time. On a recent Tuesday, after completing the wind tunnel task, students could chose between finishing coding video games they’d started earlier or using the 3-D printers to create a square on a Makerspace quilt.
The chance to learn coding was what attracted eighth-grader Rylie Freburger to join the Makerspace. While coding has been a little harder than she initially thought, Freburger said she’s still enjoying it and is looking forward to learning how to code for the Sphero robots and the drones.
“It’s really fun, but there’s not enough girls,” Freburger said, looking around the room where the boys outnumbered the girls practically five to one.
Dellosso and the other teachers helping out with the Makerspace have noticed the gender gap too and some of the girls recently sat down with two of the female teachers to brainstorm ways to get more girls involved in the future.
Other changes are ahead for the Makerspace too, Dellosso said. After winter break, the Makerspace will likely transition to a focus on small group work with students getting to sign up for activities such as podcasting, 3-D printing or even stained-glass making. This will allow more students, including those on the waitlist, to join since not all the groups would have to physically meet in the Makerspace, he noted.
Dellosso also hopes to continue his efforts to train other Perryville Middle teachers on how to use the technology in the Makerspace so they can take their classes there during the school day.
But so far, Dellosso is pleased with how it’s going and thinks interest will only grow.
“It’s important for (the students) to start thinking out of the box,” he said. “These are kids that are looking to learn about technology, looking for ways to express themselves creatively and this gives them a new way to do that.”