MARBLEHEAD – You can get a lot done if you have 3D printers, robotics kits, laser cutters, and even a kiln all within a few feet of each other. As the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead begins construction of a new Innovation Center, principal Amy Gold looks forward to the many ways that a new state-of-the-art “makerspace” will enhance students’ STEM learning.
“We wanted to build a space commensurate with the STEM programming we do. We were hoping we’d be able to take the small space we have now and really enable our children to think even more broadly about what they can do in a much larger space with more equipment and tools, and not be confined,” Gold said about the roughly $500,000 renovations that will combine EHS’s current STEM space with its art room and library to create a fluid, open space full of high-tech equipment that will allow students to envision and implement all aspects of different advanced projects.
This ambitious endeavor is possible thanks to a gift from Rose-Jane Sulman, who taught at EHS from 1991 to 2007, in honor of her late husband, David Lear Sulman. In her husband’s honor, Sulman decided to donate to three Jewish day schools dear to her heart – EHS, Maimonides School in Brookline, where she currently works, and Lander Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, where her grandchildren attend – to further their STEM curricula and capabilities.
“He was very interested in how kids were being educated – or he thought miseducated – in science and math in the United States,” Sulman said of her husband, who studied electrical engineering at MIT and spent his entire career developing automatic test equipment for Teradyne in North Reading, where he eventually became executive vice president. “He thought that kids didn’t understand things and they weren’t falling in love with science. I got the idea of using the unexpected windfall to use for funding computing science and engineering in day schools.”
Each of the three schools have used Sulman’s donation in different ways. EHS decided to use the $300,000 gift (supplemented by roughly $200,000 in additional fundraising) to build what is known as a makerspace, the type of multi-purpose, high-tech workshops that more and more top schools have built. “A makerspace is this generation’s project-based learning lab … children have an opportunity to research and create and build things,” said Sulman, noting how a mix of high and low-tech equipment will foster the sort of interdisciplinary, hands-on teaching she finds most effective. “It’s a place where you can put these new 21st century tools along with other things. We’re going back to the idea that kids don’t always learn with their minds. They learn with their hands.”
Construction on the David Lear Sulman Innovation Center (faculty are currently discussing the facility’s Hebrew name) will begin on Dec. 16, and is expected to be completed by March. In three months, the school will merge its current STEM space (which already uses much of the technology mentioned, like 3D printers, laser cutters, and robotics kits), with the library and the art room, giving students simultaneous access to technology, research, and design equipment, as well as an “idea lab” space where students can present and brainstorm in small groups.
“We wanted to have it be a fluid space that would bridge together sort of the idea, creation, research to understand what are the components that go into a project,” said Gold, who noted that each grade will present a project completed in the Innovation Center at the end of the year. “We take a project from its very infancy idea, all the way through how will it end up looking at the end.”