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Digital Makerspace at Blue Mountain Middle School

During a recent Tech for the Visual Arts class at Blue Mountain Middle School, students were figuring out how to use cardboard and duct tape to create camera filters. The goal was to explore a soft-focus style of photography called Bokeh, using strings of lights draped around the room as subject matter. Every single student was engaged and focused, requiring very little direction from teacher Logan Krause.

“It’s amazing how self-directed the students are when they have the freedom to do their own work,” said Krause. “They take complete ownership of the project.”

Krause’s class runs on a Makerspace model, in which students are given materials and tools, along with general project objectives. Beyond that, they are free to experiment, explore and arrive at the end product by whatever means they choose.

Known for its hands-on, collaborative vibe, the Makerspace model has proven to be a perfect fit for the school’s art elective programs, run by Krause and fellow teacher Paul Gioacchini. The teachers have found the approach produces a higher level of creativity in their classes, which range from Mixed Media Design, 3D Modeling and Computer Graphics to Digital Photography and Game Design.

Now Gioacchini and Krause are revamping the school’s entire Visual Art curriculum to follow a Makerspace format. During their regular art classes, students now rotate through a series of "centers," in which they explore various art production techniques. Students can choose from a variety of different "design tasks," which consist of a loose set of parameters regarding what their final art project could look like. Centers include ceramics, printmaking, digital graphic design, digital three-dimensional modeling, drawing, painting and mixed media sculpture. The curriculum aligns with not only the new NY State Visual Art Standards, but also with the overall Makerspace philosophy.

“The educational benefits of employing such an environment - allowing the students the chance to explore different topics with hands-on experiences without fear of failure -  is so valuable, as it is in failures that true learning takes place,” said Gioacchini.

Several other teachers have piloted the Makerspace approach, including Sally Simon, Colleen Ruiz and Susan McCormack. In Simon’s English class, Ruiz’s Digital Literacy class, as well as in the Library Media Center with McCormack, students have been using technology as a tool for learning, as they explore topics ranging from literacy to engineering.

The BMMS Makerspace classroom continues to evolve in both scope of content and technologies utilized. Much of the technology has been acquired through Live on the Hudson, HHCEF and Entergy grants, as well as PTA support.

Tools currently available to students include seven Nikon SLR Cameras, 12 Nikon point-and-shoot cameras, one Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, two Makergear M2 3D printers, one HP 24" Art Media 2D printer, 12 drones, 30 Makey-Makey programmable circuit kits, and two Inventable X-Carve CNC Routers; a Glowforge Laser Engraver/Cutter is on order.

“Our goal as middle school educators is to expose students not only to new ways of learning, but also to technologies that they will need to navigate the rest of their academic careers (and beyond),” said Krause. “We are providing our students with a battery of skills that will make them successful in new jobs that haven't even been invented yet.”

Both Gioacchini and Krause noted that BMMS Principal John Owens has been a driving force in establishing the Makerspace program at the school, directing them towards new opportunities for expansion and promoting the educational benefits of such an environment.

“As technology advances at ever increasing speeds, we, as educators, need to travel at similar speeds,” said Gioacchini. “Each day, we revise and revamp what we are doing to match what we imagine is possible.”

 Digital visual arts elective

Makerspace activities