On April 30th, Mara visited UC Davis’ Beta Lab (Build. Engineer. Tinker. Adapt.) programs at Met Sacramento High School (Sacramento) and Montgomery Elementary School (Davis). Professor Lee Martin (Education) initiated these and an additional program at a Boys & Girls Club in Sacramento. The Beta Lab is a mobile van filled with maker supplies, materials, and tools that can be driven to different locations to support a range of maker activities.
UC Davis: Met Sacramento High School
Professor Martin partners with Met Sacramento High School (the Met) and offers a maker workshop as an elective one day a week for a 120-minute class period. At the Met, students spend three days in classes and two days working in internships outside of school. The ~20 9th-12th grade students who elect to take the maker class participate in internships one day a week instead of two. One undergraduate and about 15 students were participating on the day I attended. There were fewer participants than normal as the 9th grade students were on a field trip. Some photos from my visit are here.
Over the course of the year, students work on both group and individual projects. In the fall they worked together to build miniature golf courses and in the winter they were challenged to work together to make something that improved an environment or their school. Students designed and built signs for their internships, a flower box for advisory teachers etc. Students could elect to work alone or with others on their final spring project, which could be entered in the Bay Area Maker Faire (about half elect to work together). The projects I observed included everything from high tech 3D printing of furniture for a doll house to more low tech activities such as cutting out a pattern and learning how to sew a pair of overalls, and creating tile mosaics.
UC Davis: Montgomery Elementary School, Davis
The after school program at Montgomery Elementary School in Davis is a partnership with the Davis Bridge to Youth program through Chicano Studies at UC Davis and runs four days a week, three hours each day. For one hour a week, Beta Lab provides a seven week maker curriculum focused on electronics for approximately 12 students. Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders participate in fall, winter, and spring quarters respectively.
On the day I attended, there were approximately four Bridge and two UC Links undergraduates working with the sixth grade students on the testing phase of their final projects. In the classroom, there were two tables of materials (including everything from cardboard and batteries to LED lights, wheels, fans, and wires) and glue guns were plugged in on the counters around the perimeter. There were three groups of tables throughout the classroom with children and mentors sitting together at each. Some photos from my visit are here.
Over the seven weeks, elementary school students partner with both Bridge and UC Links undergraduate mentors from UC Davis on a range of activities. Activities initially introduce all participants to the many tools and electronic equipment and then allow few weeks for participants to work on individual (or group) projects that will be exhibited at a mini-maker faire at UC Davis.
The students were engaged in the testing phase for multiple projects on the day I attended. The projects were often playfully envisioned and carried out. One sixth grade boy was working with an undergraduate to design a car with maximum “annoyability” to torment the student’s older brother. He had included a buzzer on his car that would emit a loud electronic noise and was testing it to make sure it would be loud enough and triggered regularly! One girl was working diligently with an undergraduate to construct a house for her rabbit out of cardboard. She was directing the undergrad as to where to hot glue the LED lights to serve as a night light, so her rabbit wouldn’t get scared. There were numerous cardboard monsters complete with various sensors that triggered lights and sound.
Wrap-ups - Both the high school and elementary programs ended with brief wrap-ups where students would report on their project and progress over the meeting. With expert prompting from Samantha King (Site Coordinator and maker extraordinaire with experience in both curriculum development and program expansion!), who facilitates the wrap-up, the elementary students in particular focused on things that didn’t work according to plan and how they needed to modify their original plan to ensure a more successful project.
Undergraduate role - One of the undergrads that I had the opportunity to talk with described her role beautifully, “I let them teach me. Letting them explain what they’re doing helps them process it. You don't think for them, you ask them questions… ‘How are you going to make this work? How do you think you’re going to do that?...With the woodworking I have no experience whatsoever. They are the ones that teach me. And that’s how you learn!’” Lee attributes this reflection partly to the encouragement undergraduates receive in the UC Davis course to “position themselves in a learning stance.” Lee also pointed out that the undergraduates are often novices in terms of using the Beta Lab technology and tools and therefore need to look to the high school students as the more experienced learners. The result is a dynamic non-hierarchical, reciprocal relationship among the programs’ undergraduate and K-12 participants.
The importance of institutional support - UC Davis has recently developed the Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement (OPSE) in the Office of the Provost and the Executive Vice Chancellor. The OPSE developed three main goals through a broad stakeholder engagement process: 1) Rewarding and recognizing public scholarship in research, teaching, and creative practice; 2) Developing and improving community-based student learning experiences; and 3) Increasing mutually beneficial community engagement and public impact. Not surprisingly, the OPSE found in a UCD faculty-wide survey that the greatest barrier to engaged scholarship is the University not valuing such activities in merit and promotion. The OPSE has become interested in and highlighting Lee’s work with Beta Lab and it will be interesting to see how such an office might support Lee’s work in the future. Lee mentioned that increased recognition for engaged scholarship has the potential to make it easier to spend time and direct resources on building and sustaining university-community partnerships. In addition, the networking events that OPSE plans to hold could be valuable for building partnerships, like the Beta Lab’s link with the Davis Bridge to Youth program (which is nascent but promising).