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How to turn a school into a Makerspace

makerspace playbookIn the schools of the future, giving each student a computer with Internet access won’t cut it. The real challenge is to add something else to blackboards and computers: laser cutting machines, milling machines and a series of Arduino microcontrollers. If you read the whole Mentor Makerspace program (MENTOR), it might sound a little far-fetched. The main idea is to create a fully equipped workshop for makers in at least 1,000 secondary schools in the United States.

The recipe is very easy. Schools provide the location, and MENTOR (Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach) adds all the necessary know-how and equipment. It’s simple and straightforward. Theory will jump out from books and into the practice of moldable plastic. If you have a computer, an Internet connection, a 3D printer on your desk and a designer in the classroom, explaining how to convert the bits of a digital project into atoms, you’re all set.

This may seems all too easy, but to propel students into the new industrial revolution – as Chris Anderson calls it – there is no other way than to provide them with the best that the maker culture has to offer. And let’s not forget, the initiative was created with the support of three champions of futuristic vision: O’Reilly Media, the Otherlab do-tank, and the EDC non-profit.

The current project for the 2012/2013 academic year involves 10 pilot schools in California. The MENTOR kit includes a refresher course for the teachers in charge of these classes of new makers, and an initial supply of hardware and software. In addition, the program already offers a handbook that details how to transform a classroom into a fab lab, dedicated entirely to students and their DIY projects.

Students in the maker class will create and develop their projects throughout the school year. The MENTOR program’s objective is to put kids in front of the creative process, test their skills, and give free rein to their imagination. At the end of the course, after having exhibited their creations at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, the students that are most interested in the world of makers will be placed in contact with this community of digital craftsmen.

High results are expected of this ambitious program: in addition to training a new generation of geeks, who will be able to put their hands on new technologies, the organizers hope to see new talent flourish. Without fear of exaggeration, you could say that this is the first round of training for future startup entrepreneurs. The Mentor Makerspace program was funded by the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to educate the new American inventors. To dispel any suspicion of isolationism, the program will be open to all the schools in the world.

The bell is about to ring like never before.

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