Pro Tips: How to Win an Awesome Makerspace for Your School – and Have Fun While Doing It!

Students at Boston International Newcomers Academy learn by building things AND taking things apart! Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

For Carloyn de Jesus Martinez, a student at Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA,) the journey into making started with a real-world challenge.

We recently sat down with de Jesus Martinez, one of last year’s winners of the #AutodeskMakeItReal Challenge, to learn more about her maker story, how her team created their contest entry, and what lessons they learned along the way.

At the end of this post, also check out some additional resources from the Boston Public Schools’ technology office for making your contest entry process a meaningful learning experience for all.

Last year’s #AutodeskMakeItReal grand prize winners, Deina da Costa Lopes (left) and Carolyn de Jesus Martinez (right) Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

The journey begins

The summer before de Jesus Martinez’s junior year, she had completed a computer science immersion program at a local high-tech company; and although she learned a great deal about coding and the digital world while there, she often found herself fixated on her physical surroundings. Specifically, she noticed how the company’s open office plan, with flexible working and meeting spaces, seemed to fuel the creativity and collaboration she saw happening. She couldn’t help but contrast this with the traditional layout of her pre-World War II school building and the constraints she felt it placed on her learning.

When she presented this problem to her computer science teacher, Panion Tase, he was inspired by her questions about the connection between innovative spaces and a culture of innovation. And so he decided to reframe his whole curriculum for the year around this exploration.

His students’ first major assignment: “Re-imagine and re-invent this space as a 21st century classroom, where collaboration and teamwork are encouraged and where technology is used seamlessly.”

Many of the students in de Jesus Martinez’s class had never worked with hand tools before they embarked on their classroom redesign. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

As a veteran teacher at BINcA, a high school that welcomes recent immigrant English language learners, Tase is accustomed to creating a student-centered learning environment where academic, technical, and social skills are carefully interwoven. But this was uncharted territory even for him. He worried that he could get into trouble with administrators, or that his other students wouldn’t get the connection between computer science and making.

Nevertheless, he persisted, because he believed that if he could instill within his students a curiosity for how things are designed and built through actually making something real and functional, that this could also foster another invaluable and enduring mindset – namely, that his students would gain the confidence that they can literally change the physical world.

And so, de Jesus Martinez – who had never held a hammer before in her life – and students like her began upending their classroom and rebuilding it from the ground up. This included constructing furniture, like tables with built-in LCD monitors, and designing adaptations such as back-lit, dry-erase walls.

One group of students designed and built a dry-erase board that is backlit with color-changing LED lights. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

De Jesus Martinez fully embraced the process of exploring, trying, failing, and trying again that was inherent to the project. What she found troubling though was not having the right tools to execute her vision.

“The biggest challenge was that we didn’t have the right materials, and we knew this,” de Jesus Martinez said of her collaboration with Deina da Costa Lopes, who also won the contest with her. “We were using a jigsaw to cut plexiglass, and Mr. Tase was always nervous. He would come close and watch to make sure we don’t get hurt.”

According to de Jesus Martinez, the prizes they won through the contest amplified their ability to create. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

Introducing the #AutodeskMakeItReal Challenge

Tase shared the idea of entering the contest with his students through first playing last year’s promotional video featuring NFL wide receiver Danny Amendola, formerly of the New England Patriots. They were excited by the video’s imagery from the Autodesk BUILD Space in Boston with its high-tech fabrication equipment.

“We found it pretty cool,” said de Jesus Martinez. “So we made it a unit for [Mr. Tase’s] class.” She explained that Tase assigned each group a prize from the prize package to research and think about how they could use it to enhance what they were already building. For example, de Jesus Martinez and da Costa Lopes created their contest entry around how a laser cutter would enable them to make the precise cuts they needed for the table they were building. Prior to entering the contest, neither of them had any idea what a laser cutter was.

The students were so focused on their individual assignments, in fact, many of them did not realize that the grand prize actually included ALL the prizes!

“It was surprising!” de Jesus Martinez said of the moment she learned they had won nearly $15,000 worth of makerspace equipment. “You got everything!”

The final project de Jesus Martinez and da Costa Lopes developed together was an interdisciplinary capstone project that implemented a variety of media to educate others about clean energy. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

Winning advice for teachers

“The best part of this project was that we didn’t depend on him,” said de Jesus Martinez, of her teacher, Mr. Tase. “We made decisions on our own and we were in charge of what we were making.”

Because Tase was able to integrate the contest into an upcoming film-making unit he was already planning to teach, his students approached the creation of their entry as just another unit of learning that was an extension of the building project.

Later in the school year, after the school had won the makerspace equipment, his students were able to apply the same skills to their annual capstone project – only this time they had the tools they needed to take the project to a whole new level.

“We were exploring the essential question we created: How can we reach people of all ages about clean energy?” said de Jesus Martinez. For the project, de Jesus Martinez, da Costa Lopes, and another student combined hands-on making with more advanced fabrication in the creation of digital and physical artifacts of their learning, such as a children’s book, a video game, a public service announcement, and a model village that communicated their vision to a variety of audiences.

De Jesus Martinez said that Tase’s approach of keeping their contest entry focused on learning new things versus just winning prizes made it less stressful and more fun. Life is stressful enough, she said.

“We are the future in charge of making the world better,” said de Jesus Martinez. “The first step to making this change is hands-on work that inspires you to do more, get the reward, and fulfillment. This makes you think, ‘I can do more. It feels good.’ Inspire people to do good things. The learning is contagious!”

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BINcA students used the laser cutter their school won to make physical models of their ideas. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools
De Jesus Martinez and da Costa Lopes designed and built a model village that illustrated how clean energy could be harnessed more effectively. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

Tips for students

Here is de Jesus Martinez’s advice for students who are interested in entering the contest:

  • Don’t feel discouraged; have fun with it! Whatever the story you are going to tell, make sure it is what motivates you, and it is honest to you.
  • Collaboration is key. Ask your teammate what they need from you. Set expectations from the start, and never hold back what you are feeling. Communicate, but also be sure to compliment your teammate. It gives them a boost!
  • Do research, not only on the prizes but also on your school. Make sure you describe the impact the prizes will have not only from your perspective, but also how it will affect other students. Tell the story for the school AND for the students.
  • Plan your film before you film it. The sequence of our story was: current situation, problem, solution. Use an anecdote to illustrate the problem – also it’s okay to exaggerate just a little!
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Most importantly, have fun!!!! De Jesus Martinez practices what she preaches with friend and thought partner da Costa Lopes. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools
Tase’s new students are currently engaged in a new classroom redesign, now that he has moved on to a new classroom! They are using Tinkercad to create visual prototypes of their ideas before they build them in real life. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools
Tase’s students are also using the Tinkercad to Fusion 360 workflow to create quick models in Tinkercad that then can be further enhanced and rendered by using Fusion. Panion Tase/Boston Public Schools

More resources for getting started or improving your #AutodeskMakeItReal entry

The Boston Public Schools technology office has created a great reading list for educators and students to build their maker mindset in preparation for entering the #AutodeskMakeItReal challenge.