Using a computer mouse, Matt Breighner adjusts the starting position of the blade on a computer numerically controlled router. George Lesnansky is eyeballing the blade and instructing Matt on how to position the blade, left to right, front to back, and its height. With each click, the blade moves a fraction of an inch, and the machine “ka-chunks” its way to a new coordinate.
Lesnansky has clamped a piece of raised board to the machine and, once the cutter is where it needs to be, Breighner clicks “go” and the machine incises the eyes of a Spiderman mask into the board.
The cutter makes multiple passes on each line of Spidey’s mask and eyes until it reaches the depth Matt has programmed.
Matt, a Brookfield High School senior, has experience with the equipment and wanted to do something “a little further than he’s gone before, and do something a little more complex,” explained Lesnansky, the coordinator of Brookfield’s Maker Space.
Using other equipment in the Maker Space, Matt has made Valentine’s Day stickers with a vinyl printer, holiday board cutouts, and a Plexiglas engraving.
“The most recent assignment he gave us involved Balsa wood and Plexiglas,” Matt said. “He gave us a bunch of waste board. We had to make whatever. Me, personally, I made a coaster out of this. They turned out pretty well.”
The school opened the Maker Space midway through the 2019-20 school year, and officials had hopes it would be in full operation this year. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that didn’t happen. For large chunks of time, students haven’t been in school at all.
However, since the school returned to having students in person four days a week, “We, eventually, got going here to the level I’m happy with,” Lesnansky said.
Still, there is so much more that could be done with the Maker Space, he said. Lesnansky is still teaching classes, keeping the Maker Space essentially closed four periods a day, and officials are working on a plan to give community members access to the machines, which includes newly acquired embroidery machine and heat press.
The Maker Space was created to inject more science, engineering, math and technology into the curriculum and, as if officials need any more incentive, the reactions of students keeps them focused on expanding use of the Maker Space. When one project is done, students want to move onto the next, work on new ideas, or try a project again to make it better, Lesnansky said.
“It’s hard to see a smile through a mask,” he said. “It’s rare to see kids smile in school. I see it all the time. Kids are so happy doing that because they created it.”
Senior Grant Abraham is one of nine students, including Matt, who work in the Maker Space for a class that was added after the first of the year.
“Originally, me and a couple of the other kids in here had a study hall first period, and then we were asked if we would rather do this and we said, ‘Yeah,’” Grant said.
On this day, the students were asked by teacher Jim Haywood to make stickers to be affixed on track equipment, discus discs and sprinting starting blocks, to identify the equipment as Brookfield’s. They broke into groups to come up with designs, and the track coach will have the final say on which one or ones to use.
This assignment shows that student effort can translate into a real-world application, Grant said.
“It’s always questionable about how you would use it in the real world,” Grant said of some of his more academic classes. “This is, I mean, you have physical products right in front of you. It’s definitely a different experience than the other classes.”
“I’m more of a hands-on kind of person, so I like it a lot,” said senior Austin Sees.
Austin said he didn’t know anything about the equipment before being invited to the class. He has even come in during a free period to work on a project of his own.
“It’s really cool,” he said of the equipment. “I like the cutter because I liked working with Plexiglas. I was thinking about making a shadow box with it with LED strips.”
Not only are students catching on, but teachers are as well. Tim Reinsel brought in a class to make mousetrap race cars.
“People are starting to realize what we create, what we can do,” Lesnansky said.
Using the Maker Space, the school has opened a SPEAR-It Shoppe to sell school-themed items. At Christmastime, the school sold hundreds of tree ornaments, Lesnansky said. It also has sold T-shirts, dog leash holders, key chains and family boards, which are cutout boards representing each member of a family as a ghost, a cherub or a snowman.
“I could have sold, probably, 50 of those, but this occurred when we were closed,” Lesnansky said of the family boards, which he had to process himself. “We sold about 20.”
Student Isabella Foust’s snowman drawing turned into the design catalyst for shirts and the family boards.
The Maker Space uses the money from SPEAR-It Shoppe sales to buy supplies and maintain equipment, but community donations of money and materials, and the repurposing of materials from the school, such as cardboard from the cafeteria, have been strong since the space opened, Lesnansky said. Declan Construction is raffling a basket of items and gift certificates to raise money for the Maker Space.
The challenge to school officials is finding a way to keep the Maker Space open all day long, all year long. The youngest students who have used the Maker Space are in fifth grade, but there’s no reason younger students couldn’t make items on some of the equipment, Lesnansky said.
“This facility is designed to support education grades k(indergarten) through 12,” he said.
The equipment could be used by students after school and in the summer for enrichment activities. Community use could help toward a goal of long-term self-sufficiency. The challenges to making all that happen are time, money and staffing, Lesnansky said.
Austin, Grant and Matt support efforts to get more kids into the Maker Space. Austin said he likes to “let my creativity flow,” and that happens in the Maker Space. Grant said the skills learned here can be used later in life.
“I look forward to coming to this class every day,” Matt said. “It’s like the highlight of my morning. I like being hands-on. I have the chance to actually come in and do a little bit of work. It makes you feel like you’ve done something for the day.”
Even though the Maker Space has not reached its potential, it has achieved much in a short time, Lesnansky said.
“We are a model school for Buckeye Educational (Systems) Inc.,” he said. “They’re the ones that sold us the majority of what’s in here. When they have a prospective client, they send them here to see what we’ve done. That sounds kind of arrogant, kind of (bragging), but it’s a true story. For the Brookfield Local school to be at the forefront, to be at the cutting edge, to be the model school, it’s something to brag about. We’re really, really proud of what we’re doing here.”
The Maker Space has a website at https://sites.google.com/brookfieldschools.us/brookfieldlocalschoolsmakerspa/home
The school’s SPEAR-It Shoppe website is at https://www.brookfield.k12.oh.us/onlinestore/storehome.aspx