Project Update: New MakerSpace with FabLab Announced!

Since the early days of the Innovation Program we’ve been researching makerspaces (see this short article about one opening in DC). Makerspaces can take many forms and the Innovation Program felt it was important for ours to take the feel of a fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab for short. We took an important first step in that direction yesterday when we kicked off the KIDMuseum Makerspace in the Davis library in Bethesda. This temporary home will act as prototype space until the KIDMuseum finds a permanent residence. The Innovation Program has been very pleased to work with the Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries (MCPL), the Department of Recreation and other county departments as we moved this initiative forward. The Innovation Program will be funding the Fab Lab component of the makerspace by providing equipment and resources such as 3-D printers. The space will not only be available for residents and students, but will also serve as an Innovation Lab for this program. We plan on using the site for the development of future technology projects, such as our SmartAmerica project.Dan Hoffman speaks at KIDMuseum kickoffThe kickoff was attended by many county elected officials who have been supporting the project from the beginning, including County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmembers Riemer, Berliner, Leventhal, and Elrich. Also in attendance were Superintendent Josh Starr and school board member Shirley Brandman. For a full write up of the event click here and for future updates of the build out of the space check back at this website. The Innovation Program and MCPL are also in the midst of planning another makerspace in Rockville for later this year. Stay tuned!

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MoCo FIRST: Innovation in the School System

Montgomery County Public Schools have a new organization this year, by the name of MoCo FIRST…that is, Montgomery County For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). Eight high schools in Montgomery County participate in the organization, and they create robots both small and big and collaborate with one another. The two programs are the FIRST Tech Challenge, which is composed of small teams of students who create a small robot, and the FIRST Robotics Competition, which uses larger teams of 20-90 students as they create large, <120lb. robots. The high schools involved include Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Northwest, Blair, Wheaton, Kennedy, Georgetown Prep, Bullis, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

1391208402864MoCo FIRST was created by students, for students in order to make participation in high-school robotics more social and open to students. At each meeting, they discuss ways in which FIRST robotics teams can reach out to the community and present their ideas and successes in order to create awareness and interest in robotics and science in Montgomery County. They plan presentations to other schools and amongst each other on their current projects. Currently, they are working on a tech challenge in which the robot they design must pick up small cubes and shoot them into designated bins.

The goals of the club are to not only share their information and expertise on the topic of robotics, but also to help the Innovation Program create a FabLab in Montgomery County. The FabLab will be open, shared space where individuals or teams can create their projects with materials and space they can use. It will have such assets as a 3D printer and other fabrication tools. These tools will be used by the robotics students and any MoCo resident with a creative streak and a desire to build something.

Another goal of the club is to push for stipends from Montgomery County Public Schools to fund the projects and meetings. They have reached out to the Superintendent and the University of Maryland, as well as been known at County Town Halls to get their name out. They sat in at the Superintendent’s budget hearing with the Board of Education as well. Private sponsors and parents currently fund the organization, but they hope to increase their funds by gaining access into the school system. These stipends would also fund their robotics coaches, because they volunteer a lot of time helping the teams. The MCR General Assembly has recognized MoCo FIRST and is currently coordinating with the Superintendent to further this notion.

As for the future of MoCO FIRST, members and leaders hope to receive stipends by 2016, increase community outreach with their projects and presentations, and compete in the Robotics Fest in Rockville. Check out www.facebook.com/MoCoFIRST for more info.