Mundelein District 75 turning storage space into innovation lab
A dingy storage area at Mundelein Elementary District 75's headquarters on busy Route 45 is being refreshed to what is hoped will become a center of innovation for students and the community.
School officials and volunteers using donated materials have replaced the old ceiling with new panels and lighting, ripped out the carpet, prepared the floor for a speckled epoxy finish and painted the cinder block walls in bright colors, including one section with chalkboard paint to encourage the flow of ideas.
What it will become is a place with no set curriculum, where whatever is taught at a given time will involve a hands-on experience that yields a finished product.
The concept is based on the "makers" movement that combines resources, such as tools or equipment and experts, to show participants how to create something they wouldn't be able to achieve working alone. Also known as makerspaces, District 75 refers to its initiative as Innovation Station -- a place where science and art mesh.
"That's a great analogy -- shop class for the 21st century," says Rob DuPont, a local restaurateur and member of the Mundelein District 75 STEAM Foundation.
A hands-on guy himself, DuPont also has been volunteering sweat equity to tape and paint the 1,000-square-foot space. He said there are a variety of directions the project could go.
"That just depends on what your resources are and who's willing to come in and help kids learn," he said.
Like the bright colors on the walls, the concept for what will happen here leans toward the abstract, with nearly unlimited possibilities, says Dan Swartz, the district's director of teaching and learning.
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The district's foundation had been dormant for years but was revived last fall. Members began to discuss how to emphasize those subjects in the district's three schools, said Karthik Chandramouli, president of what had been known as the District 75 Education Foundation.
"You can do anything. It doesn't have to be 3-D printing," said Chandramouli, who has sons in third and seventh grades in the district. "It can be leather work, it can be wood work. That's really the essence -- we wanted to created a hands-on experiential learning lab."
Because the district office is in the heart of downtown Mundelein, the goal someday would be to open it as a community makers space. Having it as a destination for student field trips and after-school and summer programs also is in the big-picture view.
The district has received input from a local makers group that formed last summer and has been investigating a public gathering space. One founder, Mundelein village Trustee Holly Kim, said she learned of the District 75 effort and a similar effort by the Fremont Public Library, which has a 3-D printer.
"I wanted to see how we could combine efforts to work smarter, not harder, and not have multiple efforts going on in town," she said. Future plans would have that group contributing classes, manpower and tools in return for space.
So far, a projector system made from computer parts in a plywood box is the sole piece of equipment at the Innovation Station. More expensive or fancier pieces, like 3-D printers or laser cutters, are not in the immediate picture.
The plan is to launch Innovation Station on Aug. 20, but there may be some activities there before that related to the district's robotics teams.
"This is like version 1.0," Swartz said. "Let's get it started and see what's generated by people's interest and we'll go from there."
In the interim, the foundation is talking with large and small local businesses as potential partners, Chandramouli said.
"We're taking some baby steps now but we expect this to be an anchor for downtown Mundelein," he said.