Sunlight streams through the large windows illuminating the pegboard wall of the Bessette Makerspace at Powhatan School. Screwdrivers, hammers, vices, nuts and bolts line the wall. Cabinets full of material such as buttons, fasteners, ribbon, foam, and cardboard await the arrival of eager students. Hundreds of projects have been created since Powhatan’s Makerspace was created a year and a half ago.

“There are two facets of the space,” explains Hannah Garrity, the director of the Makerspace. “One is the Design Brief concept and the other is projects.”

Teachers bring their students to the space and facilitate the lesson as part of the Design Brief concept. Criteria is established by the teacher, but the students are in charge of designing and engineering their own product. Fifth grade students worked in pairs to design and build bridges. They studied real bridges to determine what made the bridges work and what made them beautiful. Each pair built a weight bearing bridge that would allow a matchbox car to drive over it and a boat to sail under it. One bridge was not as tall as the others, but its innovative side-hinge bridge allowed the toy boat the sail right through.

Second grade students are learning about magnets as part of the science curriculum. They will engage in a Design Brief as they create a path for their matchbox cars. The path must take at least three turns, the car must move along the path without anyone touching it, and magnets must be used. Each group will brainstorm ideas, choose the best design, and then evaluate its success.

Teachers also use the space to complete projects that are easier to approach with the materials available in the Makerspace. Ryan Royston, Upper School art teacher, recently held his sixth grade art classes in the space so the students could use the glue guns to create intricate and tall towers using popsicle sticks. The stunning towers were then tested to see how much weight each design could hold.

Kyril Bouck completed his Native American Diorama projects in the Makerspace. Second graders gathered natural material from the Crocker Conservancy at Powhatan School and then spent time in the Makerspace to construct homes for their particular location. Kyril used popsicle sticks to build a plank house and totem poles for his

Northwest Coast diorama, while Hudson Slaughter designed and built a teepee for his Plains diorama.

Outside of the classroom, students are invited to spend time in the Makerspace after school. Mrs. Garrity hosts students in third through fifth grade on Wednesday afternoons, and Harry Holloway, Upper School math teacher, keeps a watchful eye on students in sixth through eighth grade on Thursday afternoons.

The expansive room provides access to electrical cords that drop from the ceiling above each large mechanical table, power tools, old electronics to take apart, and two large sinks. “Materials are provided based on the needs of a project,” says Mrs. Garrity. “When a teacher needs additional material, we make sure to provide it.” The combination of a beautiful space and a surfeit of supplies combines to create a flexible environment where students can dive into creating what they imagine, plan, and design.

Product development is not a term exclusive to Silicon Valley; it is alive and well within the four walls of the Makerspace at Powhatan School.