Maker bus ready to roll out activities for conference

By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Big Sky School District’s “maker bus” will debut as a functioning makerspace at the third annual Big Sky Global Tech Summit held at the district Oct. 18-19. The summit will gather educators from around the state to explore innovative ways technology can allow intentional and mindful learning.

Keynotes by author, professor and maker John Spencer; Jonathan Distad, a new local with expertise in tech innovation; and BSSD’s own technology and design thinking teacher Jeremy Harder, a Google Certified Educator, will center around this year’s theme of intentional and mindful learning. Other presenters will include district staff and educators from across the state.

The summit acts as a stand-in for a statewide educators conference that Big Sky’s teachers would otherwise attend on the same dates. Spearheaded by Harder and a technology committee, the district began hosting the event three years ago after considering the insights they could offer at the nexus of technology and education.

“[Technology] is one area where we’ve been innovators in the state of Montana, and this is one of the ways we try to share that innovation and impact,” BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman said, speaking on behalf of the school board. “We’re thrilled to have our third year coming up. … The tech committee at our school just works tirelessly,” both to put on the conference and throughout the rest of the year, he added.

Since its inception, balancing technology with outdoor education to maintain social, emotional and physical health has been integral to the summit, which offers extended lunches for participants to mountain bike, hike or fly fish.

“Most conferences you go to, you sit, you eat and then you sit,” Harder said. “And while you’re sitting, you’re learning about getting kids up and moving, but you’re still sitting. So, we wanted to do something different.”

In the same spirit, workshops engage participants so that they do what they are trying to teach, Harder said.

Every year, a unifying interactive project allows attendees to work together on a tangible enterprise that encapsulates the theme of that year. For the 2017 summit, conference participants helped tear out seats of an old district school bus destined to become BSSD’s own makerspace on wheels.

The collaborative magnum opus of this year’s summit will be designing a tepee cover using Google Drawing, then taking the graphic to canvas with charcoal, and finally assembling the structure under the guidance of Harder and social studies teacher Tony Coppola.

Although the community has been very involved in supporting the summit—including donations from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, a free vehicle wrap for the maker bus by Rau DeSigns, and beverage assistance from The Corral and Beehive Basin Brewery, which are hosting summit socials Thursday and Friday evenings, respectively—Harder hopes that more locals turn out for the workshops and keynotes.

“We’re trying to make it a community thing in the offseason,” Harder said, pointing out that the one parent who has attended the tech summit the past three years walked away from the conference-ending giveaway with a new Chromebook.

Harder estimated that there were 30 attendees last year; this year they’re shooting for 50.

Thanks to the dedication of Harder’s Senior Design Technology class, the maker bus will play a part in the 2018 summit. Seniors Max Butler, Cody Clack, Jarrett Blackburn and Myles Wilson were able to bring the bus near enough to completion to be usable in the tech summit, contributing their own elegant solutions to design challenges they encountered.

The maker bus has officially been dubbed the “Imagination Station,” which, Harder said, “is sort of a conundrum because it’s a moving thing, but when it’s parked, it’s a station.” The final product will sport a large work bench, running water supplied via a garden hose, electricity from an extension cord, and solar panels.

The mobile makerspace will allow kids to get their hands on circuitry boards and a 3D printer, to learn crafts such as sewing—Harder hopes for a sewing machine donation—leatherworking and woodworking.

Harder’s classes are also designing maker bus activities to create an activity bank to be tapped into in the future.

Some of Harder’s students want to mount a collapsible greenhouse on top of the bus while another student envisions a Bluetooth-operated watering system. When students presented their ideas to their classes, many students discovered they’d been unwittingly working on complementary projects with classmates, Harder said.

The short-term goal is to prototype the bus around Big Sky, with students helping run the activities they designed for events like the summer Farmers Markets. Down the road, district staff want to drive the vehicle to other school districts like Bozeman, Ennis and West Yellowstone to showcase how an old bus can transform into a space where students and educators can learn through making.

Visit bigskytechsummit.org to learn more.