By Mary Petiet
The bright, airy space filled by the Innovation Studio at Bourne High school is a testing ground for aspiring scientists and engineers. A prototype of its kind, the makerspace is fully equipped with high and low tech tools, allowing students grades K-12 to innovate, explore, build, and design.
Possible through community support and driven by student engagement and teachers across curricula, the Innovation Studio places a strong emphasis on encouraging innovative thinking and the development of twenty-first-century skills. The Innovation Studio has provided student opportunities for five years while helping other schools establish their own programs under the careful stewardship of Amy Fish, its dedicated facilitator.
Amy has been teaching math and science since 1994. She took an engineering teaching role at Bourne Middle school eight years ago, and with the inception of the Innovation Studio five years ago applied to be its facilitator. Under her guidance, the Innovation Studio has provided students the opportunity for independent research and internships related to science and has sent students to local, regional, and state engineering fairs while working across academic disciplines.
“My main role is providing support to teachers in their use of the studio with the goal to provide hands-on inquiry-based activities that align with their curricula. Any teacher can use the studio, it’s not just limited to STEM subjects. This year, humanities teachers are using it more than STEM,” Amy said.
One example is the Shark Tank Project. Named after a popular TV show, Shark Tank students have to develop a product, service, or non-profit that goes along with a novel they are studying. Perfectly twinning English with the sciences, they produce a physical prototype with advertising and give a live presentation aimed at enticing a fake group of investors. Through this exercise, they show their understanding of the novel through how their service would be marketable.
"As an English teacher, I want my kids reading and writing; that's the nature of the subject. The studio allows me to employ fresh and authentic ways to connect with texts and bring the literature to life. I've enjoyed using the Innovation Studio because it requires students to interact collaboratively with a text and share that appreciation in a manner other than traditional pen and paper assessments. Rather than writing an essay or taking a test, project-based learning offers the opportunity to show understanding through presenting ideas to an audience in an innovative way." said Jennifer McDonald, ELA teacher at Bourne High School.
While providing opportunities for its own students in school and through internships with Cape Cod Hospital, Physiotherapy Associates, and the CNA Program, the Innovation Studio also serves as a prototype for other schools. “We’ve had over 40 different school systems and group tours and talks about launching similar creations. It’s important for groups to be in the space. Admin gets involved with other teachers, to talk about the space’s use. We also present at conferences, including the STEM Summit,” Amy said.
As a prototype, the Innovation Studio’s approach to STEM is unique but similar as both are about providing support for students and teachers with access to skills, higher education, and industry experience.
One question that always comes up is how to fund such a venture. Amy cites community involvement as crucial and credits the town of Bourne as the source of initial funding.
“Our main source of funding came from a town capital outlay grant. The entire town had to vote on it, and we had to involve the community. That was our seed money. Another local source of support was the NYE Foundation, which supported the laser cutter. We went to the local community to find support from places such as the Woods Hole Science Teachers Partnership and we went to local banks. Other forms of community support include mentorship and participation, such as judging Shark Tank proposals,” she said.
Amy encourages other schools to start with what they have. “It’s doable. Start small. Our space is big, but you can just use your school library or an unused classroom. You could use recycled items, and have just one laser cutter to start. What you need is some seed money, and once you have a program in place, it becomes easier to get more grant money to grow it. Another key we know from experience is that having a dedicated facilitator is a key component. You need someone there to help the teachers know how to use the equipment,” she said.
Schools, local STEM industries, innovators, educators, and researchers interested in creating vital connections, innovation studio/makerspaces, and growing the STEM Ecosystem in our region contact Bridget Burger, Director, Cape Cod Regional STEM Network at firstname.lastname@example.org.