Since 2011, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP has been a well-established destination for families to immerse themselves in projects as wide-ranging as circuitry, woodworking, stop-motion animation, and operating looms. Now, thanks to $200,000 in grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and Chevron, the museum is extending its reach into neighboring West Virginia.
Partnering with the Education Alliance, the museum will help build makerspaces in four West Virginia public schools and three education centers—the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington (a manufacturing institute for adults that partners with Marshall University); the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert; and the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Huntington. Collectively, the new spaces will be called the West Virginia Maker Network.
Although the West Virginia border is only an hour or so from Pittsburgh, the seven new sites span all corners of the state, including rural areas and university towns. And while opportunities for making and hands-on learning are blossoming in Pittsburgh, similar opportunities in rural parts of West Virginia are geographically farther apart and sometimes scarce. In recent years, the state has fallen near the bottom of the country in math and reading scores.
Lisa Brahms, director of learning and research at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, said the region was “ripe for possibility and change,” and that early planning meetings showed a hunger for new educational opportunities.
“We really see West Virginia as part of our region, so it’s exciting to be part of this work,” Brahms said.
The pieces of equipment that will end up in the new makerspaces—anything from drills and hammers to 3D printers or electronic components—are of little use, however, without educators who can guide the students who are learning in the spaces. That’s why the museum is hosting educators from the new sites for a week-long Maker Boot Camp this September at the museum’s MAKESHOP. The boot camp will serve as a kick-off for the initiative, where educators from each site will begin to conceptualize how they could incorporate making at their own locations. Museum exhibit designers will then meet with teams from each site to help design their new makerspaces to align with their priorities and goals.
Brahms said the diversity of roles that educators play “really runs the gamut,” with attendees including middle school classroom teachers, an assistant principal, and an IT director.
“We love when that happens,” she said. “It’s really great because that means there will be voices from all the different approaches of learning in makerspaces.”
One of the overarching goals of the network is that the new sites one day serve as hubs for making and learning in their own communities, and eventually expand their work within each region.
Or, as James Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation, explained in a statement, “The Education Alliance’s partnership will not only help disseminate the Children’s Museum’s best practices, but provide an anchor through which West Virginia can build its own community of practice around making,”