Boothbay Region High School

CNC router to broaden STEM learning

BREF awards more than $13,000 for equipment
Thu, 11/19/2020 - 1:00pm

Boothbay Region High School students will return in January to a maker-space equipped with a computer numerical control (CNC) router. Thanks to Boothbay Region Education Foundation, a $25,000 anonymous donation and teachers Chip Schwehm, Ben Powell and Chris Liberti, the Camaster Stinger II CNC will join a Jamieson LG-900 laser cutter bought with an anonymous donation last year.

Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Keith Laser suggested the trio of teachers apply for around $10,000 in BREF funds for the next big ticket item for the BRHS basement maker-space. Powell said they knew the basic CNC they wanted was going to be slightly more, but Laser suggested they apply for the funds anyway.

Powell said the teachers were “blown away” when the BREF board approved the spending on the spot, and let them get a bigger, more expensive CNC, the Stinger II which he said costs over $13,000.

“It was honestly very quick, that moment where we went from 'This might be a possibility' to 'Oh, this is happening and it's happening fast,’” said Powell.

Schwehm said they had the idea of getting a CNC for a couple years, but decided to go with the laser cutter first. Liberti said it has much less of a learning curve, a wide variety of capabilities and cost less. Now that students and faculty have both pieces of equipment and everything else in the shop, the options are boundless in all learning subjects.

Said Powell, “Any sort of class with a project where you're making something whether it's in art or a history class or even in math if you're trying to do tessellations or geometry, you name it, you can apply some of these tools and make some really cool things and have kids learn something else on top of what you're trying to teach them.”

Computer-assisted design (CAD) drawing skills will be needed to put the CNC to its full use, Schwehm said, so he will be teaching those skills in his intro to engineering class. All students take the class as freshmen. Powell’s CAD class will likely be the first to try the CNC. The making and marketing class may also use the CNC, depending on what they decide to build; the musical instruments class can use it to cut out guitar bodies; and the furniture class can use it, said Schwehm.

"It really opens the door to using those machines,” Schwehm said. “I think the CNC will get a lot of use ... In terms of being able to make so much more – it can do 3D carving."

To open up use to the rest of the school, Powell said he will teach faculty CAD skills and how to operate the laser cutter and the CNC when it arrives in December. In the meantime, the teachers are busy trying to reconfigure the shop area to make room for the new machine, its wiring and the ductwork required for a dust collection system.

“It should be up and running for kids when they come back to school after Christmas break from the sounds of it,” said Schwehm.

Liberti said they are not sure what should come next for equipment because the learning curve will be high with the CNC. So everyone will concentrate on training. “We want … to really get these tools used in more spots than they are now, to get us where we're comfortable getting it to a broader audience. Between Ben working with the staff and leading that charge and Chip reprogramming intro to engineering so all the freshmen are coming in and getting exposure, we're really hoping staff and kids are saying 'Wait, can't we do this a different way' or 'Can't we use this tool to achieve that’ … When a kid says I want to do this project this totally different way and a teacher says 'yes,' now that kid is so much more intrinsically motivated. I think that's where the focus is next.”

Said Schwehm, “We're really fortunate to be able to say we have similar things to the Falmouths and the Baxter Academies … For a school our size, we're super lucky and the support of the community is pretty amazing.”