Open House at the Library Project Studio

Ms. Hawkins discusses the new space and its role in fostering creativity and hands-on learning.
On February 10, in a busy corner of the James G. Boswell Library, students could be found tinkering, cutting, gluing, sewing, soldering, and generally experimenting and becoming acquainted with the many new fabrication tools available in the newly-opened Library Project Studio. (And working on Valentine’s Day cards.) Renee Hawkins, the director of library services and educational technology as of the fall of 2017, answers a few questions about the new space and what it offers to both students and faculty.

For those who are unfamiliar, what's the Library Project Studio? What kind of resources does it provide? What is its primary purpose?
The Library Project Studio is part of an evolution of the Thacher Library makerspace. The short answer is that we wanted to create a space where students and teachers could count on having the materials necessary to be really creative and thoughtful as they design projects for class.

The longer answer is that we wanted to create a space where students have access to digital tools and materials for making cool things in and out of the classroom. In addition to the traditional paper, cardstock, markers, pencils, glue, etc., we have a Cricut Maker, a kind of die cutter used in crafting. Students can create ridiculously complex cards and vinyl designs. We purchased 3D doodle pens, which use a biodegradable thermoplastic filament to make 3D objects; it comes with a foam cutter, wood etcher, and soldering utensils. We also purchased a sewing and embroidering machine and I’m building a stash of supplies for students who would like to explore paper circuitry, arduinos, and more. We just purchased a GoPro camera, 4 Instamatic cameras, as well as an assortment of other nifty items. We also recently added two new Macs with Adobe Premiere and Photoshop for film and photo editing. And lots of glitter. Never underestimate the allure of glitter.

A proper space like ours should also have access to a couple of 3D printers, a laser and large format vinyl cutter, but we lack the space. Fortunately, Thacher has these items at various places on campus. That is stage two of our ingenious plan.

How have students and faculty been utilizing the space so far?
We are just getting off the ground. We are trying to develop a sense of purpose for the space. School culture plays a part as this space has shifted purpose in past years and so seeing this space as the place to go and make things will take time. That said, one of my favorite moments is when a student asks if I have glue or markers and I show them the Project Studio, opening cabinet doors and watching this sense of relief come over them. They have what they need to do the project! So far, three classes have taken advantage of the materials and the space this year and lots of individual students have come in at various times. We have a way to go, but it’s a good start.

Ways that you hope space will be used in the future?
My hope is that the Project Studio will become first and foremost, a place where members of the Thacher community can come to explore their personal interests and ideas; a place that gives voice to everyone’s innate curiosity and the need to tinker and fiddle around with things. I want it to be a place where they learn to use tools, both virtual and physical, to make things. I once worked with a wonderful art teacher who said repeatedly that every student should graduate knowing how to use power tools. I would take that one step further and add fabrication tools to the list.

I want it to be a place where they have space to prototype and iterate. On an academic level, I would love to partner with teachers to consider ways the Project Studio might enhance an already strong curriculum. For example, a unit designing paper circuits as part of a science class could be really exciting!

How was the Open House structured / what did students do or work on?
Lucia St. George, Bonnie LaForge, and I started planning our February 10th Open House last October. Why the delay? In truth, we had to give ourselves time to learn how to use the new tools and what we might do with them. Equally important, we wanted to tie it to an event that would give it purpose. So we connected it to Valentine’s Day. The main activity was, of course, making Valentine’s Day cards, but around the edges of the room we had students learning to use the sewing and embroidering machine, the Cricut Maker, the 3D pens and paper circuits. Based on our sign-in sheets, we estimate that about 100-120 students and adults stopped in during Open House. That’s amazing! We found there was a lot of interest in learning more and so Ms. St. George is organizing a few weekend workshops to help students get acquainted with the tools.

How do you think the Library Studio complements applied learning and more interdisciplinary, creative work in the classroom?
My hope is that when the Project Studio is fully operational, it will foster a culture of learning that is collaborative, interactive, and multidisciplinary, with an emphasis on creative problem-solving. It should give students the opportunity to think about an issue or problem from a new perspective. The Project Studio wants to amplify the work already happening in Thacher classrooms.

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