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Media Minute – MakerSpace

Campus Activities Media Minute STEM MakerSpace Garver

Five adolescents at a large table work on hands-on projects in a MakerSpace classroom. Some build with circuits and others screw doorknobs into wood.

What if your dog kept drinking out of your cat’s water bowl? The “pet water bowl monitoring challenge” was a problem presented by a Short Term Programs student in the 2018 Summer Programs class “Maker Challenge.” In that class, taught by TSBVI instructor Chris Correll, students met in the newly built MakerSpace in the TSBVI library, the Learning Resource Center (LRC), to work on personal design challenges and hands-on projects. They created prototype sketches, learned electronics, and constructed with hand tools. This Media Minute post will detail the evolution of the MakerSpace on the TSBVI campus with news coverage and media through the years from Short Term, Summer, Instructional and Residential Comprehensive Programs.

In the summer of 2018 prior to teaching the 2-week Summer Secondary Enrichment class “Maker Challenge,” Chris Correll created the MakerSpace in the LRC equipped with materials, supplies, and tools. The MakerSpace provides students with critical opportunities for hands-on learning in an organized and innovative environment that sparks creativity. Through the years, students from all departments came to the LRC MakerSpace to create and build, using glue guns, drills, and hand saws, among other tools. It was regularly visited by Comprehensive Programs Instructional and Residential students, as well as students in Short Term and Summer Programs.

In 2019, TSBVI developed a relationship with Garver, an employee-owned multi-disciplined engineering, planning, and environmental services firm. Garver was celebrating their 100th birthday and donated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) kits and funds to 100 schools across their 12-state footprint with a challenge to use the kits to create a “Rube Goldberg-style” contraption and submit a video for a chance to win additional STEM funding in the “Garver Chain Reaction Challenge.” TSBVI was nominated as one of the 100 schools by a TSBVI instructor’s partner, who is a Garver employee, as described in this Garver article. TSBVI students, under the guidance of Instructors Kat Heitman and Shanna Hamilton, created an elaborate contraption and submitted “The Gong Show” video. TSBVI won the competition and was recognized as the “Garver Chain Reaction Challenge Grand Champion” out of the 100 schools! We were initially awarded $1,000 but Garver was so impressed with the ingenuity of TSBVI students and staff that they donated an additional $5,000 so that we could create STEM kits to distribute to other Schools for the Blind around the country! KXAN covered our story and Garver elaborated in this article.

In the 2021-2022 school year, Chris Correll returned to TSBVI with a passion to expand the MakerSpace. A Glowforge Laser cutter was purchased and set up in the LRC and students began to manufacture their own creations. That year Sue O’Brien, Braille Transcriber/Adapted Materials Coordinator/Technology Apps Teacher, taught a computer science class in which students learned how to code with the OpenSCAD program to produce 3D printed objects. The students presented a session called “Everyone Can Code in 3D” at the 2022 Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TAER) Conference. Also in 2022 Garver committees in eight Texas offices – Austin, College Station, Dallas Fort Worth, Frisco, Georgetown, Harlingen, Houston, and San Antonio – donated a combined $20,000 of grant funding to TSBVI to help establish the creation of a MakerSpace that would exist in its own classroom outside the LRC. With more generous donations, feedback from experts at the University of Texas, area schools, and Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, plus internal support from the administration, the Operations Department, and dedicated staff, that space was built in the Fine Arts building and opened during the spring of 2023 for students in Comprehensive and Short Term Programs.

The MakerSpace had a grand opening in January 2024 during STEM Week where staff and students explored the new space and had fun making hands-on projects. Equipped with tools, assistive technology, and inspiration this unique classroom allows students to explore their interests learning hands-on skills and get real-world experience producing prototypes and physical products. The space hosts a variety of tools, 3D printers, a laser cutter, some woodworking equipment, electronic components, and a variety of materials for building, as well as accessible building kits and computers.  Garver covered the new MakerSpace in this article and Transportation Manager Bill Nguyen, who has been a volunteer and supporter of TSBVI since 2019 says, “This new space provides students the opportunity to practice working with power tools, a 3D printer, and laser-cutting machines. It empowers them to pursue a career in STEM.”

The MakerSpace continues to grow and is also included in TSBVI Staff Development where staff receive instruction in woodworking, electronics, laser cutting, and 3D printing throughout the year including during the annual Tech Day training. Chris facilitates classes who sign up to use the MakerSpace and supports teachers with meaningful hands-on projects. Listen to Chris and Sue O’Brien talk about creating accessible learning environments for STEM on A Sense of Texas podcast with host Superintendent Emily Coleman. Also, Chris presented on accessible STEM on a TSBVI Texas Tea Time.  He says, “The amount of success and growth we’ve had in this short time is very promising and I truly believe that hands-on long-term project learning is the key to both academic and lifelong success and every student’s life!”

Brooklyn, a senior, shares what the MakerSpace means to her: “I love getting to learn how to unscrew and re-screw a door knob in two different ways. I love making synthesizers and making pretty cool noises with them. Some other things that I love about the MakerSpace is how it has a 3D printer, I actually have two keychains made from the 3D printer and I get asked about them a lot. I feel like you can learn a lot of different things in the MakerSpace. I feel that it should be a place that is more known to everyone on campus so that a lot more people can enjoy it just like I do!”