Posted December 4, 2016
by Lensyl Urbano
This September a TechShop branch opened up in St. Louis. I’ve been aware of these neat Makerspaces for a few years now, so it was a pleasant surprise when one turned up in town. Even more surprising (and just as pleasant) was that a parent at our school, who was so excited by the opportunities that a place like the TechShop would offer to a school that tries to emphasize hands-on, experiential education, donated four memberships to the school–one for a faculty member and three for students.
Since there are some age restrictions on which machines minors can use–a lot of the woodshop is off limits until they’re 16 and even then adult supervision is required, I arranged a small application for the student memberships that was only open to middle and high-schoolers. Based on the response I got back, we split the annual memberships by semester, so we have three students using it this fall and three more will have access to them in the spring.
The way the TechShop works is that they have a wide range of equipment under one roof and once you take a safety and basic usage (SBU) class on the particular machine you want to use you can reserve time on the machines. There’s a wood shop with saws, sanders, a lathe, and a CNC machine; a metal shop with the same; a set of 3d printers; a set of laser cutters/etchers; a fabric shop with some serious sowing machines, including one that is computer controlled; an electronics shop; a plastics work area with vacuum forming and injection molding machines. They also do a set of interesting classes on using the design software and some interesting projects that can take advantage of the tools available–I have my eye on the Coptic Bookbinding, and the Wooden Bowl making classes. Finally, they’re set up with classrooms where you can bring students in for small STEAM classes, which includes things like using Arduinos.
So far, we’ve all taken the Laser class, and there’s just so much that you can do with the laser that we’ve been spending a lot of time experimenting. The students have been etching signs–including a grave marker for our goat MJ who recently passed away–as well as pictures, luggage tags, and making presents. Since this is a machine that the older students can use independently I’ve lost track of everything they’ve been doing.
I’ve also taken the woodshop wood CNC class, so my own experiments have been a bit more expansive, including making dry-erase erasers, floor-holders for quivers for the archery program, simple chemistry molecular model sets (just 2d), boxes for Ms. Fu’s math cards, and I’m trying to figure out how to make a clock.