Early next year students in 11 communities in central Nebraska will get a chance to build, create and solve problems with a new traveling Makerspace.

“We’re desperate for technical workforce,” said Chad Johnson, senior education specialist for Nebraska Public Power District. “And we’re hoping that this STEM lab can excite kids and stimulate them into looking at careers that we desperately need: line technicians, power operators, we do need engineers, but we also need all of those other technical skills … We want to spark those interests,”

Through a partnership between the Dawson Public Power District and Educational Service Unit 10, students in the area will get to try out devices like 3D printers, 360-degree virtual reality cameras and vinyl-cutting machines. They’ll also be sparking their interest in science, engineering, technology and math along the way.

Teachers from 10 local school districts, all of which will be able to check out the traveling Makerspace starting in January, listened to Johnson give a presentation Thursday about the program. A trailer laboratory will be equipped with these STEM technologies and travel to area schools for two-week stays.

“We want them (teachers) to see what’s in the lab, and then give them some opportunities to experience what the kids will experience so we can see how it will fit within the curriculum of their school system,” Johnson said.

After listening to Johnson give an orientation in the morning, teachers got a chance to try out the Makerspace stations themselves.

In total, the local traveling Makerspace will have 10 stations, or 10 devices, that fall into four categories — Make it New, Make it Do, Make an Impact and Make it You.

The “make it new” devices give students a chance to learn about the engineering design process, using devices like the CNC carving machine. With that equipment, students can engrave signs and make and print circuit boards.

The “make it do” devices teach students what machines are capable of doing. One station, the programmable logic controller, lets students actually program the device.

The “make an impact” stations show students ways to use technology, and their brains, to make a difference. One of the labs in this category is the Internet of Things, where students learn how the internet can be used to do things all over the world, and get to experience using the internet to do something, like feeding a fish.

With the “make it you” stations, students get to put their personal touch on projects. Johnson’s favorite station in this area is a “virtual reality machine” that is a 360 camera enhanced with virtual reality, so students can “tell their own stories.”

In his presentations, Johnson encouraged the teachers to think of unique ways to apply the Makerspace to their own curriculums.

The Makerspace, he said, is all about getting kids into the “maker mentality,” learning how to problem-solve and come up with ideas all on their own.

“We want this Makerspace to spawn creativity, to be challenging and to get kids to think,” he said.

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) currently owns an existing traveling Makerspace, which schools around Nebraska can reserve in 10-day periods. It can only travel to 16 schools a year, and all the spots for 2018-19 already are booked.

However, with the new Makerspace coming to the ESU 10 area, local schools will have better access to the space, meaning not only will they have a better chance of reserving it, they’ll be able to reserve it much more often.

To Johnson, the new Makerspace is an example of a positive relationship between the education and business communities.

“The other part of it is this whole idea of this culture of community and business and schools working together, whether that builds entrepreneurship with new businesses or whether that builds a pipeline of technical workers, it’s just extremely important that having something like this is kind of a focal point for that culture of the school-business-community relationship,” Johnson said. “And public power is a huge part of that.”

Source: Kearney Hub