Innovation Hub Makerspace Director Tim Franklin Oversees a World Where Education and Experience Collide
- J.T. Crawford
When Tim Franklin encountered the idea of the Innovation Hub, he knew he wanted in. “From the first time I heard about the concept, I had no doubt that I wanted to be a part of that vision in some way,” he says, “just knowing that there would be a place where students could have authentic hands-on experiences so that they are better-equipped to go into the workforce. The news was inspiring.”
Tim was teaching in Marshall county at the time. When an opportunity opened up at Paducah Middle, he came to the city school system. While there, he helped introduce a project-based learning class entitled Introduction to Innovation. As the Innovation Hub neared completion, and the Makerspace Director position opened, it became evident that Tim was the right person for the job. Not only did he have the education credentials and experience with project-based learning, he had a background in engineering. “I had no idea I’d be involved in this capacity,” says Tim. “I was blessed to come here and do this.
The Makerspace is designed to be an extension of teachers’ classrooms. “It complements what they are doing and helps them overcome the limitations they face,” says Tim. “If there’s a teacher who is giving a lesson, and it could be in nearly any subject, and they have an idea for a creative project that would engage students to demonstrate their content knowledge, we have the resources, space, and equipment to extend the classroom environment. It’s a place to bring ideas to reality.”
Just a few of the core concepts in the Makerspace that center around science, art, and design are computer science, coding, CAD programming, 3D printing, basic tool usage, laser cutters, virtual reality, and more.
“It’s a creative space,” adds Tim. “They design, make, and build. They can make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Failure isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a very healthy way to learn, and those kinds of lessons will stick with students forever.”
Just one Makerpace success story comes from a Tilghman art class. “John Romang does pottery,” says Tim. “If I understand correctly, the students had been creating stamps with their initials. They use them when the pottery is still a bit wet to mark them. Mr. Romang is an innovative thinker, so he inquired about students creating 3D-printed stamps. I went to his classroom to teach the students how to use the CAD program to design their stamps and go through the process of getting their creations to the printer. The kids had a really great experience watching something being transformed from design on a computer screen to something they held in their hands. And then they had the tools to sign their artwork. It shows where science, technology, engineering, math, and art all combine in a successful project.”
Teachers and Tim are always looking for projects that introduce concepts. Tim utilized the common problem of abused/malfunctioning cellphone charging cables to teach electrical principles. “We had plenty to work on,” Tim laughs. “The students learned something, and they were thrilled to walk away with repaired cables.”
A physics class found a way to utilize the Makerspace. “They were studying pulleys,” says Tim. “They came over and built a frame to mount pulleys on and test them. Not only do they know how to do the math problems and draw the schematics, they tested the accuracy of their work. Plus, they got to use basic tools—hammers and nails, handsaws, and screws. It was meaningful.” Other students, who were studying aerodynamics, built gliders from balsa wood. Future aerospace engineers? Perhaps. Some students have been so inspired that they collaborate outside of their class environments. One even created a class of his own, teaching others to build computers.
The Makerspace provides education in ways that break beyond the limitations of the traditional classroom. “It’s great to be able to demonstrate a level of mastery through a state exam,” says Tim. “But it’s also gratifying to see a student do something as simple as learning how to use a cordless drill—a skill that can be used in a workplace or at home. Maybe they make the connection between learning about electrical circuits to being able to replace a light switch. I see a lot of confidence-building. There are a lot of students that will need a higher education. But these experiences at the Makerspace will make them better professionals because they will have a more broad experience in how to learn. Those real-world skills and confidence give our students an edge. They are able to imagine and explore things that before wouldn’t have even been a thought.”
The Makerspace is available to all teachers and students in city schools, free of charge. After-school programming allows students to come and learn specialized skills. And Makerspace will also be accessible to the community with minimal fees. Tim is also working with business partners who bring project ideas that give students hands-on experiences.