By Sean Scott (Reporter ‘25)
The Makerspace at Friends’ Central is located on the lowest level of the FCC. Inside, there is space ideal for creativity to thrive, along with a vast supply of materials and equipment. Students can access the Makerspace every day, except D-days, from 8:00 am until about 1:30 pm. For Friends’ Central community members who want to bring their crafts, designs, or new ideas to life, the Makerspace is the place to be. During an interview, Mr. Dave Thomas, the Makerspace Coordinator, provided extensive insights into the FCS Makerspace’s history and current use.
According to Mr. Thomas, the Makerspace began approximately ten years ago. It was formed as a result of requests made by juniors and seniors to a physics teacher. Having completed all available science courses, the students requested that the teacher assist them in building a robot, and he agreed. The students and the teacher began meeting during free periods to work together on their project, but none of them knew coding, a necessity for programming the robot. It turned out that there was a language teacher who had minored in computer programming, and the group invited him to join their team. The language teacher suggested inviting a third teacher who had experience working with sound and lighting technology on the stage. That collaboration between students and teachers was the birth of the concept of the Makerspace.
However, there still was not a designated room to be used as a budding Makerspace, so the team found other spaces in which to work. The robotics project lasted for a couple of years, and, during that time, the group realized that they lacked an efficient way to communicate across their many different types of devices. To solve this problem, they developed their own communications app. They entered a contest that Verizon held, and to their surprise, they won! The prize money that they won was used to acquire some of the current materials in the Makerspace. Soon after, FCS purchased enough computers for each student to have their own. Computer labs were no longer necessary, and the team turned the newly available space into the physical room of the Makerspace. “One of the things that makes me so happy about this story is that it [all started from] an idea that students had,” Mr. Thomas shared.
Mr. Thomas also shared information about his career at FCS, 34 years and counting. “For the first 26 years, I taught science, social studies, and computers, all for fifth grade. At that time, fifth grade was part of the Middle School. I also taught sixth grade Quakerism. During my 26th and 27th years, I worked at the Lower School when fifth grade was moved to the Lower School campus. In my second year at the Lower School, I helped to integrate the iPad program for nursery through fifth grade. In my 28th year teaching, I was asked to come back to the City Avenue campus to help as a teacher in the Makerspace.”
The Makerspace has two sides: the design side and the fabrication side. The design side has tables that can be written on with dry-erase markers, so that the designs can be created on the fabrication side. That is where most of the hands-on work takes place. Mr. Thomas shared, “The biggest highlight is when [students walk] through the door into the Makerspace with an idea and [walk] out holding that idea in their hands…That is the beauty of this space.” One little-known fact about the Makerspace is that it has served every department, division, and discipline at FCS at one time or another. English, math, science, history, languages, art, music, physical plant, transportation, admissions, development, business office, headmaster’s office, and the athletic department have all benefited from the Makerspace.
Many projects have been made using the Makerspace. During Mr. Thomas’ first year in the Makerspace, three seniors presented at the Maker Faire in New York with projects they had worked on in their junior year. All of the projects involved some aspect of communication. One senior used an arduino, an electronic tool, to convert a segment of dolphin DNA into sound. Another senior crocheted a scarf with a message embedded within it, and the third senior 3-D printed a message to a friend. The next year, someone 3-D printed her own prom dress. She had assistance and support from teachers and students with this endeavor. She consulted a math teacher about producing the different triangles involved in the dress, and other students helped to assemble the pieces. Mr. Thomas enjoyed seeing the creativity involved in the dress and the happiness that the student experienced as she wore her own personally created dress to the prom.
A couple years later, eighth graders from FCS built an electronic saxophone from scratch. The saxophone won them first place at the Maker Faire that year. Some current projects include Tesla coils made by a ninth grader and a cathode ray tube made from an Erlenmeyer flask that is the work of a tenth grader. Seniors in biology recently finished modeling joints and ligaments. Middle School students continue to utilize the Makerspace as well. Eighth grade is working on a Rube Goldberg apparatus, a series of chain reactions, to pop a balloon using a marble. About a month ago, the entire sixth grade worked on the Derivative Project, which has been ongoing for several years. These are just some of the exciting and inspiring examples of what time in the Makerspace can do.
At the end of the interview, Mr. Thomas described that his favorite aspect of working in the Makerspace is “seeing the creativity of people that come to use the space and seeing [their] happiness with their success[es].” Everyone is welcome to use the Makerspace, and it is an environment specialized for designs, ideas, and projects that are both short-term and long-term. The Makerspace is an amazing feature of FCS with a rich history and tremendous potential for the future.