The Knights’ Forge Innovation Lab turns concepts into creations

By Nicholas Provenzano
University Liggett School Makerspace Director

“There’s nothing like the smell of sawdust in the morning to get you excited about school!”

That is something a Middle School student said this past month when walking into the Knights’ Forge Innovation Lab. Entering its second year, the Innovation Lab has been an amazing addition to the Liggett Learning Community. Thanks to the efforts of the staff, parents, alumni, and granting organizations, the Knights Forge has been able to grow and support students in all grades as they look to make their ideas a reality.

As the Makerspace Director, I get to see first hand the Liggett Approach in action as I guide students and teachers through the use of a variety of tools to create an artifact that demonstrates an understanding of a wide variety of concepts. When I’m not at school helping our students and staff, I’m out sharing how we are doing great things at Liggett with educators around the world. My Instagram profile features a library of images showing our kids at work – thinking, testing, doing, creating!

Last year, I was invited to Iceland for their educational conference and I was recently at the international Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles sharing students’ work with teachers and designers. Meeting amazing people from all over the world has led to wonderful relationships with a variety of people and companies that have become supporters of the Knights Forge and our new Innovation and Design class in the Middle School.

Creating the Innovation and Design course from scratch was a daunting task, but it has turned into an amazing class. Students have designed homes in Minecraft, created their own prototype shoes out of newspaper and a foot of tape, designed and built a model from a science fiction story, and are currently finishing building a bridge out of popsicle sticks and coding a robot to drive across it. The excitement has already led to talks of creating a level 2 and possibly a level 3 of the class in the coming years.

Minecraft and Adobe were impressed by the work students have created and have asked to feature their work in educational promotions. This type of recognition, along with being featured in a Demco Makerspace catalog last year and being filmed for a Detroit Public Television spot on innovative teaching and learning, really shows the type of quality work that has been possible for students and staff with access to the best tools and support.

In the Upper School, students have been coming down to the Innovation Lab to design parts of a 2-liter bottle rocket project for science class. Using 3D design software, students were able to create cones and rocket fins to help build a rocket to beat the one that Mr. Dunn had created.

Watching students proudly remove their design from the 3D printers and assemble their rocket is an amazing thing. They take so much pride in what they were able to design and build.

Another student has been spending her time in the Innovation Lab learning a variety of woodworking techniques as part of her ARP project. She has spent countless hours learning to use the laser cutter, drill press, mitre saw, epoxy coating, and so much more to create a variety of projects that she hopes will lead her to the creation of a woodworking class at Liggett in the future.

Moving forward, the space is always looking for ways to source materials, tools, and other supplies to make sure that students and staff have everything they need to create amazing projects. I created an Amazon wishlist if anyone in the Liggett community is motivated to add an item from the list when holiday shopping on the website.

The Liggett Approach is about giving students the opportunity to learn by doing and the Knights Forge Innovation Lab is the perfect example of what that looks like and it would not be possible without the support of the amazing Liggett Community.

If you are interested in learning more about the space or helping support student projects, please email me at [email protected]. To see more images of what our students are conceiving and creating, follow @Uniliggett and @TheNerdyTeacher on Instagram.