On your way into Home Depot, watch the people walking out. One-baggers are there for the quick trip. Cart-people are starting a home project. Platform-pullers are moving walls. This week, Sarah, Dana, and I roamed the store for three hours and left with bags, a cart, and a platform. Even the workers were impressed with our haul.
In schools, STEM Engineering supplies can resemble a picnic shopping list: popsicle sticks, paper plates, straws, and cups. Maybe an old pizza box to make a solar cooker. Yet for about half the price of a class set of textbooks, our list resembled a shop class order form: hammers and nails, drills and screws, nuts and bolts, wrenches and screwdrivers, hooks and clamps, a jig saw and hand saw, and my favorite – an indoor/outdoor thermometer. I didn’t learn Celsius from a formula. I learned by changing the units in my car. So we’re changing the units in our room.
This room will be a hybrid lab-makerspace funded by a $6000 Greenwich Alliance grant. Buying from Home Depot or Amazon is usually impossible because school purchases must be approved at the district level from a few approved vendors. The grant gives us a base, but as our space becomes a hub for projects, ordering needs to be faster. A student can order a solar panel from Amazon and have it under the sun in two days. The same panel is unavailable or more expensive through a school vendor and takes weeks to be approved and shipped. What does the student do in the meantime?
While purchasing mid-project is a problem we have yet to fix, we have materials to support those projects. Our plans guide students through water runoff and batteries. Orders placed by the high school and the Greenwich Alliance guarantee us probes to measure data and handhelds to collect it. They’ll work with the Chromebooks students will have in the fall. With the new tools, STEM students will be able to build a small lawn, run water through it, collect the data, and display it. They’ll be able to charge a battery with a solar panel, take it outside, and measure its efficiency. Not all students will become scientists, but they live in homes with fertilized lawns and sunny roofs and can learn about them now.
Stanford’s d.school pushes this idea of tinkering and finding creative solutions to the world’s “messy problems.” This week, founder Bernie Roth spoke on NPR about education and what he said stuck with me: “Students shouldn’t have to wait until they graduate to do things because if they do, they won’t do them.”