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Mpower Studio - Pittsburgh Obama Academy Makerspace

A place to empower students, to open new learning opportunities, and to open a new world.

MPower Studio is a place full of endless opportunity to express creativity, to be innovative, to promote purposeful collaboration, and to be your best self. This high tech student-centered, project-based learning environment is preparing students to solve real world STEM-based problems through equitable, design-focused learning opportunities. All students feel a sense of connectivity!


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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February 2019
For there to be a place where I can express myself, be myself, and at the end of the day, make an idea come to life is an experience I wish every one has in their life.

About the innovation

Making the Invisible Visible

In the Mpower Studio, we believe in showing students they have gifts, talents, skills and abilities that they never thought they had before. We give students the ability to showcase their gifts through a highly engaging, maker-centered learning environment. With a variety of tools and equipment, we allow students to make the invisible, visible.

Our school makerspace has become a place full of innovation. From rapid prototyping, manufacturing, and a design-centered, project-based learning curriculum to providing students with unique STEM opportunities, all students are collaborating together to make their ideas become a reality. Many students start their own endeavors such as building t-shirt businesses, making gifts for friends and family, taking leadership roles and building a team to help make their ideas visible. Students are not just learning about all the unique opportunities to collaborate, they are learning how to design and lead their lives with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Every sophomore and freshman student enrolls in Intro to Engineering and Applied Engineering and these classes are connected with our makerspace. By the end of the school year, almost 300 students are directly involved in the world of making. There are days during the week where any student can stay after school and take advantage of “open shop” hours where they are free to design and make anything they want to.

Students are realizing when you have a vision with a deep sense of impact and purpose that alone will carry you through obstacles and challenges. With our space being connected to a class, there is equality for all students to take full advantage of the idea of making the invisible visible. All students see how the makerspace can be adaptable to other areas of school and life. After being in the makerspace for a class, students have completed other subjects’ projects. English teachers let their students create videos and drama teachers allow their students to create scenes from stories. Students have even created props for theater shows.

During sophomore year, our students are required to complete a personal project and many students take advantage of our space. One student is currently designing and laser cutting residential plans and taking advantage of 3D printing to create interior furniture and equipment. Other students start small businesses and sell products to the community. Another student is making and selling shirts to fundraise for school events.

We want all students regardless of background, race, or socioeconomic status to have equal opportunities and take advantage of all the STEAM, design-centered, and problem-based learning challenges so they are prepared for an ever changing technical global society. Allowing our students access to a makerspace gives opportunity to apply learning through real world challenges, to present learning in different ways, to adapt to new situations, and to take action on new ideas and innovations.

Implementation steps

What Opportunities Do I Want Students to Walk Away With?

What do we want an Obama Academy graduate to walk away with after being in our makerspace? What does the profile look like of this kind of student? Ask yourself many different kinds of questions and everything else will fall right into place! Identify the needs and constraints.

  • What learning outcomes do we want for our students?

  • What kinds of technology do we want them to experience?

  • What kinds of projects do we want to make?

  • How will this space get run? Will it be part of a class or an open area for students to explore opportunities?

  • How can this be cross-curricular?

  • How can this space be adaptable for new experiences and environments?

Research the Materials/Equipment to Create the Opportunities

When you go and buy groceries to cook or to bake later in the day, do you buy anything that comes to mind or do you identify what it is you want to cook or bake and buy the necessary groceries and ingredients?

Does it not make sense to have an idea of what you want to make and then the ingredients are already set for you?

Same thing with our makerspace! We thought long and hard on what kinds of opportunities, lessons, and activities we want our students to walk away with and everything bought itself! All the guess work is done for you!

For MPowerStudio, it all revolved around creating a 21st century learning experience with opportunities and activities that brought the best out in you, were problem-based and problem solving activities, promote design-centered thinking, creates ownership in learning, creates purposeful collaboration and meaning.

The information below is also in the 'Resource' section.

Equipment in MPower Studio:

  • iMac Computers

  • Laser cutters

  • CNC Router

  • 3D Printers

  • Vinyl Cutter

  • 4 color screen printer

  • Heat presses

  • Sublimation presses

  • Embroidery Machine (6 thread)

  • 3D scanner

  • Hand tools and Power Tools

  • Table saw

  • Miter saw

  • Inkjet Printers

  • Flash Dryer for shirts

  • Tool Chests

  • Hot glue guns

  • Storage for student belongings

  • Other storage for materials


  • Plywood - 1/8", 1/4", 1/2" 3/4" (birch and oak plywood)

  • 2x4's, 2x6's lumber

  • Hard woods: Maple, cherry, walnut, poplar, hickory

  • Cardboard

  • Balsa Wood

  • 3D printer Filament

  • Calendared Vinyl

  • Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) for shirts

  • Water-based Ink for shirts

  • Screens for screen printing (110W, 125W, 155W mesh)

  • T-shirts

  • Transfer paper for shirts - light and dark colors

  • Transfer paper for mugs

  • Blank Mugs

  • Scissors

  • X-Acto Knives

  • Utility Knives

  • Hot glue

  • Thread for sewing

Plan the Layout

Traffic flow and where materials are located is incredibly important when it comes to optimizing your space. You want to make sure that everything is as easy to get to as possible. Layout will change over time and that is completely normal.

Design the space in the best way you can initially and when students start using it, allow the students to offer ideas on how to make it better.

Note: Work closely with the maintenance department to make sure the layout is appropriate and falls within school/district code.

Create Project Based Lessons and Tutorials

  • Create engaging small projects on each piece of equipment. These projects do not necessarily have to be anything of large scale at this point in time.

  • By creating project based learning tutorials, students automatically use all the software needed to create their item.

  • Below are examples of small projects for each piece of equipment we have in our space:

  • Laser cutter: Box making, phone docks.

  • CNC: Plaques, any type of wooden sign.

  • 3D Printer: Keychain, small boat.

  • Vinyl: T-shirt, license plate.

  • Vacuum Former: Make chocolate or soap molds. Anything that can solidify - you can even make unique ice cube trays!

  • Microcontrollers: Make an LED light smiley face, display the time.

  • Embroidery: Custom made patch or logo.

Attached Lesson Details:

  • Have you ever went to a bank and the bank employees push all the coins into an opening on the table and a machine automatically sorts the coins? That's essentially what this lesson is all about except with 3 different sized balls! 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" diameter wooden balls - that's what we use.

  • This is a very design-focused and critical thinking project for students. I usually group students into teams of 2 or 3.

  • GRAPES is an acronym we use that means: Goal of project, Role of students, Audience, Process, Evaluating, and Statement of Inquiry which is an International Baccalaureate (IB) term.

  • The GRAPES for my class is usually a design brief for students. It tells them everything they need to know in the most efficient way possible. Everything else is thoroughly explained while teaching.

Questions for students to explore:

  • How can you design a way for the 3 balls to separate?

  • How can you use the least amount of material while still accomplishing the goal?

  • If your stuck, what systems in the world could you research that will help you build this project?

Improve and Optimize!

You will always be improving your space. Traffic flow needs to be easy and effortless for students to navigate and to retrieve tools or materials.

Constantly ask students what they would do differently and take their ideas into consideration.

BONUS! Random Thoughts for Lasting Change!

  • Have you ever heard of the 80/20 principle? Ask yourself this: What are the 20% of tools, materials, or "things" that we need that will yield 80% of the results? This leads into the next point.

  • Think about the art of minimalism. What are the materials, tools, equipment that will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you? Could you get materials cheaper or possibly donated?

  • What materials are most common and what are students not using?

  • Read and use data!

  • Love the process of reverse engineering!

  • Start and think with the end in mind.

  • Always, always think long term.

  • It's the students space; always keep it student-centered.

  • Build relationships with local suppliers. They may give you free training!

  • Display safety posters.

Further resources:


  • for safety information and much more!


  • (Technology Student Association)

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