I have something in common with Superbowl MVPs. No, I’m not a star athlete – far from it. My connection is that I attended Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, alma mater of the Manning brothers and 2014 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham, Jr. Despite the notoriety that these famous athletes have given Newman in the national media, in New Orleans Newman is known for being an academic powerhouse far more than an athletic one. Think Walter Isaacson, Michael Lewis, or Mark Plotkin as grads who are representative of that academic rigor.
Newman was founded as a manual training school for Jewish orphans. It’s motto? Discimus Agere Agendo, which means “We learn to do by doing.” That was how you learned a trade in the early 1900s: by doing it. Rogers Perlis, founder of the Perlis chain of clothing stores in New Orleans, learned to sew at Newman—and he built a thriving business from that foundational skill. (If the Maker Movement ever wants to adopts a slogan, I propose Discimus Agere Agendo for consideration, though I admit the Latin might make it a tough sell.)
I’ve heard 3D Printing in schools described as “the shop class of the twenty-first century,” without the negative connotations that were sometimes slapped on students headed for a vocational-technical track rather than a four-year college education. Why do I bring this up? Because Newman has created a 3D Printing Makerspace. They have 3D Systems CubePro printers on site, along with 3D scanners, design software, and other tools of the trade. Students are learning design and additive manufacturing techniques. They scan; they shape; they create; they build; they print.
Is Newman School, bastion of academic rigor, turning into a feeder school for vo-tech? Probably not, but there is no question that the administration is keenly focused on providing an education for their students that extends beyond the traditional curriculum. Math is not abstract, it is applied. Geometry doesn’t exist in the virtual cartesian coordinate plane alone; instead, the X, Y, and Z axes have tangible outputs. Art doesn’t just exist on a canvas. Students are making. They are DOING.
It seems fitting that a school that was founded to provide concrete skills to students has in some ways come full circle. There is no doubt that the academic rigor is still there. But the academics are being complemented with opportunities for students to learn by making and doing. Newman will continue to produce great students. There will probably be another generation of professional-caliber athletes. But I predict that we will also see a cadre of Newman grads who make their bones in designing, engineering, and making. And those students are getting their start right now, in a space where they can learn by doing.
Is your school creating a Makerspace? If you want ideas and guidance, please get in touch – we’d love to help