The vinyl cutter, I got on eBay. It was a starter kit, less than $500. It's the perfect entry into computer-aided design. You allow kids to really come up with their own ideas. You can make stickers, banners, anything you can type or design on a computer. We've made banners for a dance and career day rather than outsource. It's saving money.
The laser cutter is probably the most versatile. It can engrave, cut, make different, cool 3-D things, make 3-D cardboard models. The 3-D printer is probably the most sexy. It's getting all the press. It's a longer journey to be able to design your own things. It's got the glamour, but more sizzle than steak at this point. But it's really cool.
CNN: Did you manage to get a diverse cross-section of the school in the class?
Shea: When I was walking around trying to sell it, I wanted to make sure it wasn't just a room full of geeky boys. I was asking girls in my geometry class, "Could we do this kind of stuff, but make it cooler? What kind of stuff would you want to make?" They were like, "Duh, girls like this stuff, too."
Our percentage of girls this year is lower -- a little less gender-distributed, but certainly the academic levels are varied. It's interesting to see how they intermingle. It's rare to have a class of a mix of ages and abilities. I really do think the kids at both ends get something out of having their hands on something, rather than all-theory or a complete void.
CNN: How does it change the way students are learning?
Shea: It's the kids who came in with no experience, no background, no skills who get that sense of accomplishment. Without fail, nothing works the first time. It's something we don't get enough opportunity to do. In most classes, we have to move on, you either get it or you don't. Failure is a judgment rather than part of the process. In math, kids come in convinced, or someone has convinced them, they can't do something. We don't take the time to go back and make that failure a reflective process.
"You failed? That's great, what did you learn?"After you get those little moments of success, "That's great - remember how bad you felt yesterday, after three days of putting the thing together, flipping the switch and it didn't work? It's not over."
That's more like real life, rather than school.
CNN: What advice would you give to other schools and teachers that want to start their own maker spaces?
Shea: Start small. Start with an after-school thing. Get this stuff into the mainstream of the school. "We've got this stuff, what do you need?" As an assignment, (the students) have got to make something for a teacher's room. The whole idea is to open eyeballs and start to think creatively.
We've gotten an amazing amount of materials and support from the community. We've had a number of community builders coming in, ex-teachers, tinkerers who are moving, realizing they're not going to get into their electronics stuff. You've got to just dive in, and you've got to know, it's like a tiger by the tail, but it's a great tiger.