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Students Can Build A Robot at Mason’s New Makerstudio

Mason teacher John Ballou goes from the M-Studio to the M-Space at the school's Makerstudio. (Photo: Drew Costley)
Mason teacher John Ballou goes from the M-Studio to the M-Space at the school’s Makerstudio. (Photo: Drew Costley)

An old space in the library at George Mason High School has a new purpose, or possibly thousands of new purposes, and has opened along with the start of the new school year. Two neighboring rooms in the rear of the school’s library, one of which was a test prep room, have been converted into what they’re calling a Makerstudio.

“Explaining what this is is part of the challenge,” said John Ballou, a teacher in the school’s fine and performing arts department, as he sat at one of the workstations in the M-Space (short for Makerspace), a room with rudimentary robots, 3D printers, a workbench full of tools and a soldering iron and a set to stage and film animation. The other room, called the M-Studio (short for Makerstudio), is a studio with audio and video equipment, musical instruments, a green screen and an Apple computer with the full suite of Adobe creative tools.

The effort in part is to create a space where future students in the International Baccalaureate, which the City schools want expand to include the Middle Years Programme, can work on independent projects. The Middle Years Programme requires 10th graders to conceive and execute an independent project.

But Ballou emphasized the importance of centralizing independent projects on Mason’s campus, creating a prototyping studio and allowing students to learn how to use design visualization tools.
And the juxtaposition of the engineering and artistic tools in the Makerstduio is an effort by Mason, as with many schools across the nation, to promote STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning as opposed to STEM learning.

“Most of the very fun things we’ve been doing in the arts department kind of stayed down there,” Ballou said. “We’ve moved some of it into the actual library where many more kids come through and get a chance to see things like robotics or get a chance to see people doing independent projects with a 3D printer and that kind of thing.

“First of all, they’re going to see that it’s accessible and there are people their age who are doing this kind of work already and secondly that they’re going to be able to have a place and the time to do that.”

As part of promoting use of the Makerstudio, Ballou will be teaching a Makerstudio class. The class does not have a strict curriculum – instead students conceive, plan and execute their own projects with Ballou’s guidance. In addition, the Makestudio will have open lab hours throughout the course of the day for students to come in and use the space to work on various projects. Scroll down to see our photo gallery of Mason’s new space.