Westerville City Schools' "Tomorrow's Learning Today" event kicks off a new public learning series and officially opens an engineering/design "maker space" for Westerville students.

The first in the learning series tackles the challenge of facility design, called "Hands-on Project Learning and the Maker Movement."

It begins at 7 p.m. Monday, March 6, at Westerville North High School, 950 County Line Road, with a panel discussion involving community leaders, outside experts and school representatives, said Stephanie Henderson, with Westerville Partners in Education.

After the discussion, the public can check out student demonstrations at the SHOP, a new maker space at Westerville North.

Like the district's mobile Fab Lab and other maker spaces, machines such as laser and vinyl cutters, tabletop-milling machines and 3-D printers will be utilized to help students with design projects.

Henderson said the panel discussion would include experts from the PAST Foundation and the Point at Otterbein University.

"The discussion will explore why hands-on project-based learning is important, not only for students, but for the community and workforce needs of today and tomorrow," she said. "It also might be a best-kept secret that some of the needs of local businesses might be met by partnering with our schools' innovative, hands-on, project-based learning."

Superintendent John Kellogg said project-based learning and facility design both play important roles in education.

"It's important for us to build a shared understanding of the role facilities design has in supporting 21st century teaching and learning," he said. "That can sound trite, but really, the design of the classroom space plays an important role in how effectively the curriculum can be delivered to the students."

He said technology tools added to classroom space, without planning, can lead to frustration.

"From how desks are designed to how many electrical outlets are available -- we need to consider the role of facilities design," he said.

Kellogg said the SHOP has many of the same elements as other maker spaces, but with additional equipment.

"There is also a classroom area with a bank of computers for students to do design work," he said.

"We have found that many of our students who experience the seventh-grade curriculum and the Fab Lab, are thirsty for more of that kind of learning experience."

Kellogg said the engineering course work added at the three high schools also has been popular, with 200 students enrolled so far.

"There are similar maker spaces at both South and Central," he said. "We have really started getting people interested in these kinds of spaces and are allocating resources to make it happen."

Henderson and Kellogg said the next topics in the series have not yet been determined, but Kellogg said there is more to explore with facility design.

"For example, we talked about the impact of facilities design on the social-emotional experience and development of students," he said.

"A student's day is very hectic, with little time to decompress," he said. "What kind of space can we create that allows students to relax and recharge?

"We have also done some interesting things in regard to furniture and equipment that provide support for students with significant emotional issues."

Kellogg said some things are very simple, like implementing standing desks and flexible-furniture options as opposed to sitting at a desk all day.

"Not everything in a school needs to look different, but there is room for change," he said.

Henderson said she hopes attendees would want to continue a conversation with the schools.

"WPE would also be able to work with the schools and community members to connect those who might find they want to volunteer their time," she said.

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@PamelaThisWeek