Teachers working to open robotics space to creative students

The robotics space sits empty during the day, when it could be used to teach hands-on skills.
Photo By: Zak Sleeth

Teachers Nikhil Joshi, Michael Gudor, and Scott McComb are working with seniors James Mitchell and Erik Harang on the development of a Makerspace, a place for students and classes to not only design creations, but to have a hands-on experience in creating them. The makerspace will consist of the Large and Small Project Lab and the CAD Lab.

“Mr. Gudor and I have been talking about it along with Mr. McComb, to maybe convert the shop from being more of a robotics space, that was used primarily by the robotics team, into a more open and welcoming space for the rest of the school, and other classes, and teachers, and students,” said Joshi.

This Makerspace is meant to be a resource for the students, a place for them to do more hands-on work on projects, and for them to become more acquainted with industry-oriented skills.

“All of these tools and skills are being used out in industry, to degrees of depth and breadth,” said Joshi, ”and I think a student might not really know what it means to be an electrical engineer until they’ve sat down and figured out how a microprocessor works and how I hook it up to things and read data from sensors and make decisions with software and build a working component.”

A Makerspace gives students a chance to do something more with their hands.

“For me I try to put myself in a student’s position, like if I were at this school and a student. I know for me, I like to design things, but I really want to see them actually made and built,” said Gudor. “I don’t like to just design them in the computer and be happy, I want to actually physically touch them and use them.”

This concept of a more hands-on workspace is really important to Gudor.

“The Makerspace would fulfill that need of actually producing what I thought might work for something and see if it works. That would give me motivation to do more, versus just building it in the computer and theoretically it works, but I really don’t know,” said Gudor. “I like to see and touch my creations, so I put myself in my student’s position, and I’m like ‘that would excite me to try something new and see if it works.’”

The Makerspace also gives students an opportunity to learn something about what they’re really interested in.

“Look at it this way, a kid might think they want to be an electrical engineer, then they do a project that involves it and they discover ‘well, that wasn’t as much fun as getting all the mechanical stuff hooked up,’” said Joshi. “Now they can say, ‘okay maybe mechanical engineering is something I’m more interested in’, because they actually did a project that required all of these things to be put together, the software engineering, the mechanical engineering, the electrical engineering, the manufacturing technologies put together.”

In a project-based school like RAHS, using the tools sitting in the robotics lab to expose students to a real project workspace can be extremely beneficial.

“Those are tools that are here and right now sitting idle most of the time that could be readily used making projects to help students learn. And nothing engages the brain more than getting the hands engaged also, and building real world projects,” said Joshi. “I think it’s a huge asset that we’ve underutilized, but finding out efficient ways of using assets requires time and energy and thinking.”

Of course, it’s not as easy as opening the robotics lab up to any student who wants to cut wood and grind metal.

“A lot of the equipment down there is dangerous, there’s saws, table saws, band saws, there’s machines that could crush your hand,” said Joshi. “Certainly we have to take into account student safety. In general, policies are that students need to be supervised by teachers pretty much all the time when they’re using building resources, so there are these policies we have to figure out.”

In order to make sure the lab is a safe environment, there needs to be someone present anytime there is a student in the room.

“The main problem right now in between having a student space for that [a makerspace] specifically is just the fact that we need mentors, or we need an interesting insurance plan,” said Mitchell. “Why this hasn’t happened before, and why it’s being so slow now, is because of that room being so hard to access. We might even need to hire somebody to overlook that for a couple hours in the week.”

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