When Greg Keller graduated from Linfield College in 1996, he told one of his professors that he was interested in working with technology in the classroom. The professor smirked. His response? “Good luck with that.”
Now, Keller is more than eligible for an “in your face” retort. Back in fall 2016, David Douglas High School launched its precocious MakerSpace Lab. The Lab is essentially a “library for technology,” according to Keller.
The Lab, part of a wider worldwide phenomenon to involve kids more intimately with technology, is the product of a Career Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization Grant, which also paid for a new culinary room at the high school. The grant was the brainchild of a group of people from the high school and the district office. Notably, there is also a Chuffed Crowdfunding page entitled “David Douglas High School MakerSpace” set up by the David Douglas Educational Foundation (including school board members Frieda Christopher and Stephanie Stephens). It’s still short of its $15,000 goal by $4,350.
For those not privy to the notion of a “makerspace,” know it’s a loose term. Technically, it involves any collaborative work space where people learn, explore, share and generally think outside the box in creating things with either high-tech or low-tech tools. In this way, David Douglas has held “makerspaces” for years (think art classes or woodshop).
“There has always been ‘making’ at David Douglas High School,” explains Keller, David Douglas’s MakerSpace coach. “We have some amazing programs that are hands on and have been in place for years. Our students are fortunate to have a music program, several arts electives, metal shop, automotive, [woodworking and more].”
Keller was instrumental in the design of the project, having worked on its implementation since February 2016. He is David Douglas’s first MakerSpace coach, but he’s been working within the district for 12 years. Prior to working at the high school, he was placed at Alice Ott Middle School, and he spent two years at the district office.
In between his coming on board and the launch of the physical Lab, Keller conducted some research last fall on other makerspaces in town. He paid a visit to Nike, Adidas, Art Design Portland (ADX), Franklin High School (at the former Marshall High School Campus) and the Rockwood Library, among others.
“We tried to take as much input [as we could] from folks who had gone through the startup process,” says Keller. “That helped to inform our purchases, layout and what type of activities we would like to offer.”
Before Keller got involved, it was essential that he be a tried and true Jack of all trades. The official David Douglas job description involves “moderate to extensive degree of physical stamina and the ability to lift and manipulate computers and equipment, frequent lifting up to 50 pounds and occasionally lifting up to 75 pounds, reaching, twisting, standing for prolonged periods, hand-eye coordination, climbing ladders and the ability to identify color-coded components.”
When the MakerSpace Lab set sail, it had clear objectives—and cutting-edge devices in mind and on hand.
“It’s for students to work on industry-standard equipment that is scaled down to be affordable and practical for the classroom,” says Keller. “We are able to offer students the opportunity to work with laser etching/cutting, 3-D printing, vinyl printing/cutting, Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) mills, green screen technology and basic electronics/coding.”
One of the more essential components of the program, however, has nothing to do with computers or horsing around with quality electronics. It’s about bringing people together. “The focus of our program is to give kids an experience that touches on several aspects of design,” says Keller. “Through that process, we hope students are able to bring a lot of their learning full circle. Being part of a MakerSpace is about being part of a community, so people have to learn to work together to be successful.”
In addition, the MakerSpace Lab recently launched its first class: Applied Technology.
“I like to think of it like P.E. [Physical Education] with technology,” says Keller. “[It’s] a chance to sample many different types of technology with the focus on experiential learning.”
For now, it looks like MakerSpace is here to stay.
On Nov. 21, Prosper Portland awarded a $25,000 grant to Impact NW to make upgrades to the façade of the MakerSpace and warehouse at the Dancing Tree Family Center. Someday, Keller’s MakerSpace could be next. “The folks controlling the purse strings seem to see the value in what we are trying to do,” says Keller.
It’s likely they’re not the only ones.