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Makerspace puts technology in the hands of Su Valley students

by Phillip Manning ~ May 19th, 2017

by:  Enoch Snider

Once the last bell rings at Susitna Valley High school, Ed O’Connor, a science teacher there, opens his door to students enthusiastic about learning. Ed hosts something called a makerspace after school every Thursday. This space is an environment where ideas are encouraged to blossom and having fun learning is seen as paramount over accomplishing specific tasks.

“This whole maker space idea, you don’t really have particular goals. It’s kind of wild experimentation, and   hopefully great things can come from it, but you’re not driven by those great things, you’re driven by having a good time. And if something really tremendous happens from it, that’s almost a side effect. Enjoying a challenge is the lesson.”

Ed got the idea to start this program with his students when he stumbled upon a similar initiative at UAF.

“I’d seen at UAF this program they have called the Saturday thing. It’s a room at the university where anybody can come in and just play with batteries, with wires. There are people there who kinda know what’s going on but mostly kids come in and just kinda try electronics projects and put cool things together.”

With O’Connor’s newfound platform for education he doesn’t have any structure in mind; it just works.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing with this stuff, but the beauty of it is that nobody really seems to care too much. If it works, that is awesome. The fun is putting it together and figuring out how things work.”

Although the kids are incredibly savvy at solving problems even they need some guidance sometimes.

“Ask him a bunch of questions about envelopes and stuff, and how to hook up the envelopes. We’re not 100%, we could be all wrong, ya know we’re just kids.”

Just kids that build some pretty extraordinary things, a majority of the students that attend are no older than 13. Every one of them are involved in their own project, started completely of their own volition. One of the young students, Landis, was inspired by Jim Scott, the engineer that worked on a pioneering electronic music synthesizer.

“It’s an oscillator, an audio oscillator. So if you’ve ever heard of a synthesizer. It makes sounds in different waveforms for different electronic music. It uses potentiometers and different things; output, input. Pretty simple.”

He was also working on one other project I found particularly interesting, he made a piezo amp, which is this little pad that you can stick onto anything that makes noise, and it amplifies it.

“Let’s say you’re going to strum a guitar, like vibrations, it picks them up and amplifies them. This is out prototype that we made. This is on a protoboard. We’re building it on a breadboard. You can put it in an altoids can. We’re experimenting with different amps”

It’s surprising that with all of this freedom, the students still continue to accomplish so much. In a not very task oriented environment O’Connor has only one goal in mind.

“Fertilizing curiosity with enough batteries, switches, transistors, capacitors and a basic understanding of how to use them and who knows what could happen.”

Under the guidance of Ed these kids continue to grow intellectually with his endgame being that of creating a space where his students can learn.

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