Local high schoolers gain skills at Brown Design Workshop

Aaron Weinblatt created the elective in 2022 to offer an alternative to traditional science courses for more than 300 students from local Rhode Island high schools. 

Photo By Brown University

PROVIDENCE, RI — Students from Blackstone Academy Charter School are now working with laser cutters, 3D printers, drills, saws, and sanders. This is thanks to a new class called Makerlab, a partnership between educators at the local high schools and Brown University students, and staff at the Brown Design Workshop.  

The high schoolers traveled to Brown's 10,000-square-foot maker space each week to transform ideas into creations, learning woodworking and metalworking, along with design and engineering skills.

Blackstone Academy science teacher Aaron Weinblatt created the elective in 2022 to offer an alternative to traditional science courses for more than 300 students from Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Providence. Makerlab's project-based curriculum, developed with Brown engineering students, introduces fundamental concepts like structural integrity, material properties, prototyping, and iteration. Immersed in hands-on design and engineering challenges, students gain resilience and problem-solving skills, Weinblatt said.

"Tools can be intimidating, and fixing, designing, or making something can feel overwhelming,” Weinblatt said. “This class aims to empower students with the confidence to design, fix, and make so they can see themselves as problem-solvers and makers. We want students to grasp the engineering design process, embrace iteration, and balance goals with constraints. Building grit is also key. Trying, failing, and adapting — that's real engineering in action and a profound life skill."

Aalyah Matos, a ninth-grader at Blackstone Academy, had little experience with tools but was astonished by how much she enjoyed the hands-on projects and how useful the skills she gained proved even in the short term.

"Before this class, I would have said I'm not into building things, but seeing these projects come together is fascinating," Matos said. "Plus, learning to use tools and machines like a drill press is so much fun — and it's something I'd never encounter normally. Now, if something breaks at home, I feel like I might actually be able to fix it myself."


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Dakota Smith | Editorial Intern

Dakota Smith is an undergraduate student at New Jersey City University studying English and Creative Writing. He is a writer at heart, and a cook by trade. His career goal is to become an author. At Woodworking Network, Dakota is an editorial intern, ready to dive into the world of woods and words.