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Digital Maker's Club brings 'creating' to next level

Students at Marquette Senior High School have been busy programming, printing and building computer software, hardware, video games and more as part of their Digital Maker’s Club, a new group offering students unprecedented access to new and developing technologies.

MSHS Earth Sciences Teacher Rebecca Simmons started the club this fall after she realized the sheer number of students interested in computer technology who — beyond some computer coding and industrial technology classes — didn’t have access to any tools or opportunities outside their home, Simmons said.

“A lot of the students say ... they’ve been hiding in their bedrooms doing this, and everyone thinks that they’re crazy,” Simmons said. “They’re already creating these amazing things on their own, but no one is seeing, so this gives them a venue to kind of showcase some of that work.”

Over 75 students attended the first after-school meeting with about 50 attending every meeting since then — an enormous turnout considering how busy many of the students are, Simmons said.

Even if the students don’t end up with careers in computer science, the club offers important exposure that wasn’t there before, she said.

“If kids never get exposed to the possibilities in computer science, they may never know they are interested,” Simmons said. “Computer science is the fastest growing job sector in the world with some of the highest potential salaries. At MAPS, we believe we would be doing our kids a disservice if we did not work to expose them to this realm.”

Since student response was so overwhelming, the club was broken up into five groups to allow students to pursue their specific interest, Simmons said. The groups are: 3-d printing, an additive process in which an industrial robot produces computer-programmed objects by successively adding layers of plastic or other material; hardware design, building computers and video games; software design, programming applications, computer games and websites; wearable electronics, designing and constructing smaller devices that are built into clothing, such as lighting or GPS units; and digital photography and video.

Simmons hopes, once teachers become more familiar with the technology, this kind of training can be integrated into the curriculum as soon as next year, she said.

There’s a good deal of overlap among projects and students between the Digital Makers Club and the Lego robotics team, with robotics being a good venue for competition, she said.

“This (club) is more for the creative side of that,” Simmons said. “So we don’t do competitions. ... We’re all about making and remaking and celebrating that maker’s spirit in everyone ..., so playing with things and tinkering are the keys to what we do in our club.”

MSHS Junior Noah Sorelle, 16, is on the Lego robotics team and is the student leader for the 3-d printing group within the club. While this is the first time he’s been given access to technology like 3-D printing, Sorelle has always been the computer guy in his family, he said.

“It’s just kind of always been, I’m the one who works on everything, and if anything ever needs fixing, I’m always the guy who does it,” Sorelle said.

The school’s two new 3-D printers have allowed the team to design and build their own custom parts for their robot, Sorelle said. But the computers are the easy part — the most important thing he’s learned is how to work effectively with other people, he said.

Sorelle believes integrating this technology into the classroom is something students are more than ready for, he said.

“There are a lot of students who like to do these kinds of things, but the school’s never really actually had that many opportunities to teach it,” Sorelle said. “But now, (with the club) people can actually do and go into things that they like.”

The club is satisfying students’ curiosity while also preparing them for a variety of potential careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, fields. Most importantly, it allows students the freedom to create, Simmons said.

“To get students away from just being consumers of technology and actually have them be creators of technology is one of our goals, and so these kids are craving that opportunity,” Simmons said. “Many of our students have moved beyond just using games or even using apps. They wanna make their own apps. They wanna customize things, and I think that really speaks to their generation. They’re all about customizing and building something unique for them, and so this club lends itself really well to help them kind of step over and dip their toe into actually creating technologies.”

The club’s largest source of financial support has been through “Expanding Possibilities,” a donation-based fund to help teachers offer better opportunities to students, Simmons said. The club is looking for public support, and interested donors can contact Simmons directly through email at [email protected] or call MSHS’s front office to donate to “Expanding Possibilities.”

The group won’t go out and buy technology for the sake of buying it, Simmons said.

“We want to try to be purposeful and make sure we’re adopting things that really do develop our student learning and bring rigor and relevance to our programs,” she said.

This article was originally published in The Mining Journal.

Student-run credit unions help Traverse City students save $50,000

Traverse City Area Public School’s Partner In Education, TBA Credit Union, has developed a program that puts students in the teller’s seat. Started in 2010, the Student-Run Credit Union program is designed to give 5th grade student volunteers the opportunity to process deposits at their own school mini branches.
Student volunteers apply, interview and train for positions including branch manager, teller, bookkeeper, computer operator and marketing representative. Once trained, students operate their branch under the guidance of TBACU staff members and process transactions for fellow students.

The program also reinforces classroom lessons about financial literacy and allows students to apply those lessons in a real-world setting.
The effort has paid off. Students have saved $50,000 in the five years since the program started. By depositing everything from pocket change to allowances, students create personal bank accounts and learn to manage their savings.
“We couldn’t be more impressed with the example these students set, both as savers and volunteers,” said Cindy Lardie, Marketing and Education Coordinator for TBA Credit Union. “When you consider that most deposits are handfuls of spare change, it really shows that it is about being consistent with saving, no matter the amount.”
Traverse City Area Public School’s Partner In Education program works to connect community members, businesses and organizations to local schools and programs through sponsorships, financial contributions, in-kind donations and give-back programs. It is a school-community partnership that allows the community to form a genuine relationship with TCAPS schools, programs, teams and clubs by sharing their time, talents and treasures.

A video about the TBACU student-run credit union is available here

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