[Editor’s Note: Wachusett Regional High School student Megan Gage got in touch with us to tell us about her school’s MakerSpace, wanting to celebrate the dedicated teachers who make it so great. We couldn’t agree more, so we asked her to write about it … we think you’ll find this inspiring story speaks to the important role MakerSpaces play in today’s schools, and how they’re changing kids’ lives. Thank you Megan, and thanks to these fantastic teachers!]

Tucked away in the corner of Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, Massachusetts, is a classroom that most of the school’s population will never visit. This is the MakerSpace classroom. It has become, for many, not an area they associate with the school, but a safe, close­-knit community where the doors are always open.

Head teacher, Greg Chandonnet describes MakerSpace as “a class, a physical space in our school, but most importantly, a community composed of students, teachers, mentors and the outside public. MakerSpace is a nontraditional class that focuses on self-directed learning and projects. It’s a community where students feel safe to be themselves, not be judged and to escape from the pressures of high school.”

William LaBaire helping his Computer Science students with their programming techniques

William LaBaire helping his Computer Science students with their programming techniques

Our class has changed the lives of not only the students involved, but also teachers Greg Chandonnet, Daniel Paradise, and William LaBaire. “Outside the classroom I actually go day to day, minute to minute, looking for what other people call junk, to bring back to class in hopes of it being used. I am always thinking, Can I use that in MakerSpace?,” comments LaBaire.

In the Wachusett MakerSpace class, students come together to help each other learn and succeed. “The biggest take away is to learn to think independently. In this class, students are asked to be self­-directed learners and for the most part, it’s the first time they’ve been asked to work on their own. It’s 100% independent while being 110% billable,” remarks Chandonnet. In this class, students learn things that they would never learn in a typical classroom. Students bring their own personal skills into the class so that everyone learns not only from the teachers, but from their peers.

Left to Right: Greg Chandonnet, William LaBaire and Daniel Paradise; the teachers of Wachusett MakerSpace

Left to Right: Greg Chandonnet, William LaBaire and Daniel Paradise; the teachers of Wachusett MakerSpace

Paradise explains, “MakerSpace is an independent, hands on program in which the ideas I teach in a Physics classroom can be applied in MakerSpace. MakerSpace is very open ended for all the students to express themselves in the way they see fit.” People who would never usually interact at school can meet and discuss their ideas. MakerSpace attracts all types of students from very different social groups. Paradise attests to this, saying, “Makerspace should be offered to all high schools because there are many different kids in a school and they all can come together to work on one project and towards a common goal. The sense of community in this class is huge.”

In Wachusett MakerSpace, your learning skills are put to the test. You are taught to truly think independently. You aren’t given any detailed instructions; everything is open ended. This allows students to think creatively and let their artistic/engineering minds explore all the possibilities. Everything in MakerSpace is self-directed learning. Students have each other and the Maker teachers to help them, but the student creates their own plan/guidelines to follow. MakerSpace teaches Makers to work in a group for one project and to work together to complete a common goal. Wachusett MakerSpace isn’t like the typical classroom, it gives students the freedom to express themselves in the artistic ways that they please. Everything that you learn in MakerSpace carries with you throughout the rest of your life and allows you to think independently.

This class would not be possible without the continued support and determination of the teachers. Wachusett MakerSpace was originally started by Greg Chandonnet and Craig Antocci in 2013. Since then, the MakerSpace has been able to obtain a 3D printer, build a cob oven, hold an annual MakerSpace Carnival and Faire, and build up a classroom of over 30 students.

The Wachusett MakerSpace teachers hope to be able to expand the class and find more funding for new tools, supplies and projects in the future. “Makerspace allows me to continue to share experiences with students and be there for their AH­ HA moments of their creations and gain knowledge from them. It keeps me honest and grounded as a teacher and mentor and I wouldn’t give this job up for anything. Its like I’m not going to work, but I’m going to a space where I can help the students and community expand their creativity. I’m honest to the community and the community is honest to me,” says Chandonnet.