St Johnsbury Academy
St Johnsbury, Vermont
St. Johnsbury Academy, founded in 1842, is an independent coeducational day/boarding school located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Combining the resources, facilities, and curriculum of the world’s leading independent schools with the personal support and attention of the best small boarding schools, the Academy’s standards for communication, problem-solving, citizenship, and essential knowledge set high expectations for each student. A diverse student body is made of 960 students representing 30 countries, 21 states and more than 40 Vermont and New Hampshire towns. These students benefit from an extensive 220 course curriculum including 23 AP courses, 40 pre-professional arts courses, five languages, 8 engineering courses and an average class size of 12. Co-curricular offerings include an advisory program, 48 athletic teams, 20 intramural sports, musical theater and drama as well as more than 50 clubs and activities.
Description of Maker Space
Although we have recently added a “maker space” to our facilities, Saint Johnsbury Academy is intentionally working toward a “maker campus” culture that includes this space as just one resource among many that support craft, making, and the integration of new and old technologies. The space known on campus as the “maker space” is a large classroom-sized room in our technical education wing that is home to a Full Spectrum laser cutter and accompanying computer with Corel Draw, a MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation and Digitizer and accompanying computer with the MakerWare software, a Ganesh GBM-2616 Heavy-Duty CNC Bed Type Milling Machine, a manual lathe, and a suite of bench top tools including a drill press, belt sander, bandsaw, and miter saw. This room is also home to a set of six 3Doodlers with stands and assorted nozzles.
In the library is a small maker spot that consists of a tabletop with two computers, several littleBits electronics kits, and a couple of MakeyMakey setups for experimentation. In our science wing, the pre-engineering lab is home to desktop and laptop computers with the Autodesk suite, SketchUp, Robot C, and game design software. This is also the home of our class sets of Lego and Vex Robotics equipment, Arduino microcontrollers, and electronics components.
These spaces are complemented by our continuing technical education and fine arts programs. The technical education program is home to a complete welding shop, auto body repair shop, woodworking shop, and electrician’s shop. The fine arts department is home to a fashion design studio, photography studio and darkroom, videography studio, graphic design lab, printmaking studio, and architectural drafting lab in addition to traditional drawing and painting studios.
Description of Program
St Johnsbury Academy has always been a school that values craft, authentic practice, and making things. In particular, our technical education and fine arts programs have involved generations of students in creating both beautiful and functional objects that reflect the skills learned in these programs. More recently, engineering, robotics, and computer science classes and clubs have afforded opportunities for students to add digital and electronics skills to this repertoire for building and making.
At the Academy, individual program spaces within the maker campus culture continue to use their resources for coursework in their respective disciplines. As the community moves to embrace a larger culture of making and design thinking, and as we have created better access to new technologies like the 3d printer, we are seeing greater interdisciplinary work from students and faculty both within existing curricula and outside of the classroom. We have an active outreach program for faculty who would like to explore the space, either on their own or with students, and the space is also open at least one afternoon each week for students to pursue independent projects. While the new maker space houses an array of exciting opportunities for fabrication, we expect can already see that it is most successful when used in conjunction with studios, workshops, and labs all over campus.
The physical capacity of the space offers a touchstone for thinking about learning in general as a process of design. Best practice suggests that students learn most effectively when they are engaged in an authentic process with a meaningful outcome and plenty of opportunities to see whether their products are satisfactory, learn from mistakes, and revise. This design process model works equally well whether the product is an essay, an experimental procedure, or a photograph.
In our first year of this outreach and the first year of the maker space, the room has been used by classes and clubs from across the disciplines to complement or enhance their other work. The lab has been visited by students studying the maker movement, students looking to build parts for custom projects and students just to play.
Examples of How the Space is Being Used
When students and faculty ask what the maker space can be used for, the response they get is, “anything you want.” In the past several months, the football team used the lathe in the maker space and resources of the welding shop to make a pole-camera for recording practices. A psychology class digitized a model of the human brain, 3d-printed hollow brain segments, and wired them with LED lights to show which parts of the brain are active during different activities. A literature class designed and 3D-printed digital models of monsters to accompany creative writing about the metaphorical monsters in contemporary society. A chemistry class used 3Doodlers to investigate the properties of different kinds of polymers. An engineering design class learning to use a CAD program developed three-dimensional marble-maze puzzles that were created using the CNC milling machine. Students designing board games made custom playing pieces.
Projects in progress include participation in a historical buildings contest, with a team of students recreating a building on campus in SketchUp that they will later print out. An Algebra 2 class is designing physical representations of functions, while the robotics club is building custom parts for a competition. One student printed a custom cool-air intake manifold for a snow machine, and another is starting to design a castle to accompany a presentation about Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
To encourage additional innovation and introduce more users to the space, we are planning regular workshops. These workshops will sometimes focus on particular tools available, and sometimes on kinds of projects that might use a variety of tools. The only limit we have imposed on use of the maker space tools is that the users have some role in the design process. For instance, a student who wants to download and print a case for their smartphone is encouraged, instead, to explore software for creating their own design.
Long-term, there are two primary goals for the new space and the Maker Campus culture as a whole. The first is to serve as a resource center and learning community for students to connect their classroom learning with real-world projects, helping students move beyond imagining solutions to making them tangible and usable. This is supported through connecting faculty with the space and supporting their efforts to integrate design thinking with existing curricular goals, and through providing extracurricular opportunities for students to explore and use the space in groups and individually.
Second, we hope ultimately to serve the wider Northeast Kingdom community as a resource for innovation and entrepreneurship. Although the details of how we can best interface with the wider community of makers are still in the planning phase, working to reinvigorate the economic potential of the region in the digital age is an exciting and far-reaching vision.