Jeadi Vilchis, a STEM consultant and devoted maker educator from Oakland is passionate about utilizing maker-centric tools to positively influence learning within the Oakland community. His projects with students include building LEGO robots, and using CNC routers and 3-D printers. A native of East Oakland and a product of the Oakland public school system, Vilchis has a passion for teaching students and teachers in the OUSD community about installing and managing maker spaces and designing curriculum that integrates making as a key aspect to learning STEM.
“Lots of people view STEM disciplines as difficult to learn and master. I would like to change the paradigm of what it means to work with STEM,” Vilchis says. “I think by installing maker spaces in schools and educational institutions, students can learn and be drawn into STEM experientially. I also think showing them a way to design and create tangible objects that people see value in transforms their interest and passion into entrepreneurship.”
At East Bay Mini Maker Faire, Vilchis and his students from Castlemont High School will introduce fairegoers to the world of creating tangible objects with 3-D printing. Students will also bring signs and earrings, designed and made by them, for attendees to see—and buy!
Vilchis has worked with various schools, including St. Lawrence O’Toole, Metwest High, San Leandro High, and Castlemont High School, and he offers consulting services through his company, Neologix, to educate teachers and students on setting up, maintaining, and utilizing cost-effective maker technologies. He wants to make a difference in the way STEM is taught to Oakland public schools and strongly believes that adding maker spaces within the school will increase the likelihood of young students from lower-income background succeeding in STEM fields. This belief is rooted in his experience working in education, with a particular emphasis on serving youth from lower-income families in San Francisco and Oakland communities for nearly 15 years. His principle focus is to uncover their potential and introduce new options in their choice of professions. His strategy is simple: If you can help students make tangible objects with the concepts they’re learning, and walk them through the building process, you get them interested. If the students can then sell their creations, they start thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs.
At left, middle school students from St. Lawrence O’Toole (K–8) work with Autodesk Tinkercad on a challenge to design a fruit. The winner of the contest got to print the design on a 3-D printer.
Vilchis started his educational career as part of Year Up Bay Area, a program that helps low-income youth of color ages 18 to 24 secure jobs in high-tech and obtain higher college education. He also worked with Upward Bound, whose goal is to get students from low-income families to complete secondary education and earn college degrees. For the last year and a half he has been solely focused on enabling kids in STEM, with an emphasis on making and maker spaces.
Vilchis’s hope is to make “institutions self-sufficient in the long run so that making is integrated into the curriculum and kids from an early age learn how to visualize a concept, think about its application, and build a real-world, tangible object from it.”
The ruler in the picture at right was designed and created by high schoolers from Castlemont High School in their own maker space as part of the SUDA works program.
The importance of making and maker spaces
Making provides a powerful learning experience for young kids as they are involved in the entire life cycle of how something comes to being. It helps them walk through the process of building a real object from a vague concept or idea. This in turn transforms them into critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Introducing students from to robotics, computer science, programming, 3-D printers, CNC routers, laser cutters, and power tools awakens their engagement as they are enabled to make tangible associations with their thinking and design processes.
Vilchis has watched students build furniture, jewelry, pendants, signs, rulers, and Lego robots that are programmed with sensors that enable them to follow commands. Quite a few of his students have also monetized their creations at maker faires and festivals, and are making the next natural transition into entrepreneurs—a very satisfying and rewarding experience that gives kids the incentive to stay engaged and feel productive.
The full cycle of making in action!
The images at left showcase the essence of making, as high schoolers from Castlemont High School learned how to design their own earrings and signs, and used laser cutters to create commodities that they
could then sell to make money during the Malcolm X Jazz festival in Oakland.
The picture at right shows students experimenting with robotics using Lego Mindstorms Ev3 kits. These kids are part of the Holy Names University Upward Bound project, which is funded by the United States Department of Education to help further higher education in kids from low-income families whose parents don’t have bachelor’s degrees.
Maker spaces—and their cost implications—are varied, but all set the stage for success
The cost of establishing maker spaces can range from $5,000 to $125,000, with the median cost around $75,000. The most basic design space can have a low-end 3-D printer, CNC router, vinyl cutter, and power tools for building with wood. Higher-end versions might include higher-end equipment, as well as additional tools like laser cutters.
The picture to the left shows the FabLab in Castlemont High School, which is equipped with CNC routers, a table saw, a chop saw, various power tools, 3-D printers, and laser cutters. The picture at right shows an 11th grader building a table using power tools like drills and a table saw for the FabLab.
This illustrates the power of making with cheaper, cost-effective tools and raw materials. Basically, kids learn that they can use skills from building utilitarian objects on a day-to-day basis. Since they actively participate in the making process, they have well-founded respect for the raw materials and objects that they use.
Advice to students
Vilchis advises kids to actively seek out making in their free time as a way to solidify their learning experience. He also urges students to read up online on making and maker spaces, and to subscribe to Make: magazine. He also tells them that he taught himself robotics and computer programming, and he notes that tools are available in spaces like the SF Tech Shop, which gives students a chance to learn how to work with CNC routers, laser cutters, and other tools.
Vilchis urges kids to take advantage of East Bay institutions like Laney College FabLab and Ace Monster Toys Hackerspace as resources for learning about and experiencing maker tools. Even if their schools don’t yet have the budget to support on-site maker spaces, they can still access—and master—tools at these facilities.
Interested in learning more about Vilchis’s thoughts and work? Check out this video with Cat Bobino: