Makerspace Labs Encourage Creative STEM Learning

"I want to be an engineer. I like crafting things and digital work," said Raynell Lemelle, an 8th grader at Mildred Osborne Charter School in New Orleans, LA. Supporting this kind of enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is key to helping kids build the skills they’ll need for successful career paths in today’s digital economy.

Propeller and IDIYA —two New Orleans non-profit organizations that are playing a key role in advancing digital literacy and the digital transformation of the region—and Capital One recently partnered to strengthen STEM learning opportunities at Raynell’s school by creating a Makerspace Lab, a dedicated space where kids learn STEM and digital skills through hands-on experiences and creation using advanced computer equipment. "In my entire life, I’ve never experienced a facility like this. On a scale of 1-10, it’s an 11!" said Raynell after spending some time in the Lab.

The Makerspace, a concept originated by IDIYA, is poised to transform teaching in schools by providing a fresh approach to education that deemphasizes traditional standards, testing and uniformity in favor of creativity and experiential learning.

Teachers go through a 16-week training program to become familiar with new equipment and software and discover ways they can make their school’s Makerspace a unique and meaningful learning resource. In order to help students use the Makerspace equipment Mildred Osborne teachers learned to design in CAD, program in Arduino, and safely operate advanced manufacturing equipment including 3D printers, Computer Numeric Controls, advanced machines such as laser cutters and CNC mills, and metal/wood working, all of which are installed in the school’s Makerspace.

"The kids working in the Makerspace are super happy and engaged, and that’s what this is all about," said Andrew Shanan, the school’s principal. "Our students see the level of technology that’s in private schools. They now have the same great equipment and opportunities."

With computer science and STEM skills necessary for many of the jobs these middle school students will be pursuing when they get older, it’s important to make sure all schools, especially those in lower-income communities, have access to learning and resources that support acquiring digital skills at a young age.

"Bridging the digital divide helps to even the playing field for New Orleans students," said Propeller Executive Director Andrea Chen. "By providing Mildred Osborne students with a Makerspace in their school environment, we hope to spark a love of technology and creative making that will inspire students to pursue knowledge economy and STEM careers."

"This new Makerspace enables students to enhance their digital skills, learn about advanced manufacturing, and gain an appreciation for the do-it-yourself-style of working. We believe the Makerspace can build hope in the minds of students that they can improve the world around them and become leaders in this community and beyond." said Capital One Bank Southeast Louisiana Market President Karen DeBlieux.

Chris Hatten, who teaches 5th and 6th grade science at Mildred Osborne took the training and can often be found tinkering away with his students in the Makerspace Lab. "This is a low-income school. The Makerspace is an opportunity for our students to have a plethora of opportunities they otherwise would not have. "This includes opportunities to collaborate, problem solve and invent."