New workspaces for students become available to all

The programming team of Skunkwords, (left to right) Tanvir Tatla, Eric Pratt, Bella White, Eli Benevedes, Mike Heidal, and Tri Phan, use the Small Projects Lab to work on software for their robots.
Photo By: Giovannie Dang

Nikhil Joshi, RAHS Mathematics, Flight by Design, and Astronomy instructor, is working on turning the Small Projects Lab and the Large Projects Lab, also known as the shop, into a space available to the entire student body.

“I want to make both the Small Project Lab (SPL) and Large Project Lab (LPL), more usable for all classes and clubs at the school,” said Joshi.

The first part to making the SPL and LPL usable to all classes involves rearranging equipment to make cabinetry accessible, cleaning up the LPL and allocating storage space for clubs. Clubs that could use this space regularly are  Robotics, Science Olympiad, and classes such as CAD+Manufacturing (CAD), and Flight by Design (FbD).

Joshi believes that developing an operations manual for the labs will keep students safe, and the space available for all students.

“Creating an operations document that outlines rules for using the lab spaces and safety guidelines will include the standards for leaving the space usable for the next class period,” said Joshi. “We [Mr. McComb, myself, and Mr. Gudor] would develop this operations manual with collaboration with the principle expected users of the space.”

Even though Joshi is trying to make the space accessible to everyone, it will not be a truly public area.

“Students will still need teacher supervision to use the spaces,” said Joshi. “It’s just that they’ll be available to all students and classes at the school for project work and there will be expectations on how to use and share the space.”

The labs would have a similar setup to the CAD lab on the second floor.

“Think how the CAD lab is shared between CAD, FbD, and Yearbook,” said Joshi. “We want to do the same with the labs and equipment on the first floor, and we’ll include formal operational rules for use of the CAD lab while we’re at it.”

In robotics, any student who wants to or has to use the heavy machinery needs to be shop trained. Any student who needs to use any of the tools needs to have some sort of safety training before being allowed to have access. One concern to making the SPL and LPL available to everyone is maintaining the safety and security of the students.

“A teacher would need to be present to use the space,” said Joshi. “We would likely keep the SPL and LPL locked when not being used. The labs would not be used without a trained staff member present to monitor students and other users.”

Skunkworks, the school’s robotics team, has been the main user of the SPL and LPL, but making this space usable by the entire student body will benefit individual students.

“Robotics has been the primary user of the lab spaces to date,” said Joshi. “We have lots of cool technology that isn’t being used efficiently because we don’t have protocols for sharing the space with other programs in the school. Setting guidelines for usage will allow more teachers and students to take advantage of the technology for projects in different classes.”

The robotics team works in this space a lot, especially the programming subteam. Senior Mike Heidal, a member of the programming team, uses this space frequently.

“It [the SPL] has several different uses,” said Heidal. “There is a 3D printer and a laser cutter for CAD. I’ve mostly just used it as the robotics programming sub-team’s home.”

Most students never use the SPL, on account of it always being locked.

“I’ve only ever used the small projects lab for programming,” said Heidal. “It is a quiet room out of the way. It’s also used for the utility of the garage door.”

Making the SPL available for the student body is an important addition for students who need the extra resources to be creative.

“The SPL can be a shared instructional space like the CAD lab,” said Joshi. “The labs are part of the school so all programs should be able to easily use the shared space.”

One of the big concerns for turning the SPL  into a semi-public workspace is that robotics will be hindered.

“I guess there is delicate equipment in there that could be an issue,” said Heidal. “Delicate equipment like the laser cutter, wind tunnel, and any projects people are working on at the time.”

In Mr. Joshi’s opinion, robotics should not be hindered, necessarily, by this transition. There would be an impact on them, but there should not be any obstructions.

“The Skunks have had primary access to the lab space in the past,” said Joshi, “so yes there will be an impact on them to share the space on a regular basis with other school programs. I’m confident that it can be managed in a way that allows all programs at the school to benefit without a serious impact on robotics.”

Not only should there be very little impediment, making the SPL and LPL available to all students could benefit the kids on robotics.

“Students on Skunkworks will also benefit by being able to use the space for their other classes, outside of robotics,” said Joshi.

Another main concern for student access to the SPL and LPL is that the labs are already very crowded with robotics paraphernalia, such as old robots, none of which can be realistically thrown out.

“There are a lot of robotics specific parts and artifacts in the LPL,” said Joshi, “including several years’ worth of robots. So yes, we need to work with the robotics team to clean up the spaces, and free up storage space so other programs in the school can use the labs.

One big hinderance to robotics would be if classes during the day left the LPL or SPL messy, cluttered, or otherwise obstructed.

“Day users of the space would need to reset it so Robotics can use it in the evening,” said Joshi. “Similarly, robotics would need to reset the spaces so CAD or FbD, for example, could use the labs the next day, which would involve moving their in-progress work out the way. This is where the operations manual for the labs would come in so everyone understands the expectations for using and resetting the shared spaces.”

Build season is a very stressful time for students on robotics, and turning the SPL and LPL into a school-wide space is in no way trying to impose upon robotics during build season.

“Certainly there may be different expectations depending if the Skunks are in build season versus outside of build season,” said Joshi. “Regardless, I think we can come up with guidelines so the labs can be used by everyone in the school both in and out of robotics season.”

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