The sun is shining and school has been dismissed for nearly an hour, but in this second-floor classroom at JHS 157 in Rego Park, about a dozen students studiously sit in front of computers.
These preteens are not serving detention. They want to be here. They are part of a nationwide program that allows students to learn the ins and out of computer technology in an effort to make them more tech-savvy earlier.
Under the guidance of their teacher, Lori Stahl-Van Brackle, and coordinator Patti Effers, the students take part in a program called MOUSE, which exists in 225 schools across the country, including 65 in New York City and 13 in Queens.
MOUSE, which stands for Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education, provides the schools some equipment to work with. JHS 157, for example, has three 3-D printers.
“The goal is to make these students prepared for the technology-centered world they’re going into and do it as early as we can,” Stahl-Van Brackle said.
The program is open to students at the school, who apply and write an essay on why they want to take part.
“We get some who want to play games, some who want to build robots,” Stahl-Van Brackle explained.
The students, who are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, do a wide variety of projects, including creating their own board games — in one case, a laser-cut board; in several other cases, chess sets with 3-D-printed chess pieces.
Her students’ most recent project was to go to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. While there, they digitized artifacts and learned how to print 3-D figures of what they saw.
Using graphic design software Tinkercad, they learned the often tedious process of taking images of the object from every side and putting those pictures together on a computer to create a 3-D image.
“Besides teaching them about technology and computers, it definitely helped supplement their lessons in other subjects,” Stahl-Van Brackle said, noting that the museum trip played a role in the students’ science classes. “That’s a very good thing.”
Then comes the printing. Since MOUSE came to JHS 157 several years ago, the organization has provided three Maker Bot model 3-D printers, or Replicators as the company calls them, for the school. The students printed their final products on the printers.
The MOUSE squad also takes part in different events outside the school, including Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in the fall, where students see other designs and show off theirs.
For sixth-grader Scott Siegel, Maker Faire was first a daunting experience.
“At first it was a little overwhelming,” he said. “But it was really cool to see all the works and be a part of it.”
Siegel kept an online journal of his experience at Maker Faire.
The students will also take part in another convention, called Emoti-Con, NYC Youth Digital Media & Technology Challenge on June 14 at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. They will present some of their projects before a panel of tech expert judges.
“The kids are super excited about it; they won’t stop talking about it,” Stahl-Van Brackle said.