Gizmo Garden, an engineering education program run out of Skidompha Library in Damariscotta, offers a weeklong vacation camp during February vacation each year. This year’s program included 23 local students in grades 6-9 and was staffed by 3 high school students from Lincoln Academy along with professional engineers who live in the midcoast area.
According to the program’s website, “behind Gizmo Garden is a team of Lincoln County residents who want to provide students in Midcoast Maine with extraordinary opportunities to explore engineering.… We design original curricula and present them in a gender-balanced, non-competitive, creative way.” The organization partners with Skidompha Library and Bowdoin College’s Upward Bound program.
Nobleboro resident Mike Lee is Skidompha Library’s Gizmo Educator/Coordinator. “Gizmo Mike” earned his PhD in physics at the University of Glasgow and moved to Maine with his wife, satellite oceanographer Cath Mitchell of Bigelow Labs. Other Gizmo Garden professional staff members include electrical engineer Jamie McGhee of Newcastle, actuarial consultant Bob Congor of New Harbor, and electrical engineer Bill Silver of Nobleboro. Judy Silver of Nobleboro is the program’s co-founder and Director.
This year’s Gizmo theme was Gizmo Water Park, and each student participant designed an original small robot, or gizmo, that moved water in a fun and original way in preparation for the final waterpark showcase for parents and fans.
Lincoln Academy students who served as staff members this year were Gizmo veterans Rachael Schuster, Nolen Michael, and Finn Dworkin.
“High schoolers play an important creative design role at Gizmo Garden,” said Program Director Judy Silver. “For younger students, high schoolers are more approachable than adults, and are much better sounding boards for their design ideas. Since the high school staff members all have previously attended as students, they can help kids design gizmos that express themselves artistically and yet are feasible technically. The variation in the high-schoolers’ interests – sports, theater, lobstering, debate, biology, music – bring diverse role models to Gizmo Garden and make all kinds of kids feel like they belong there, whether they have previous technology experience or not. Since computers are everywhere these days from the technical effects of theater to the diagnostic imaging of medicine, to the control systems of cars, we need our emerging leaders to be tech literate. The high schoolers at Gizmo Garden are paving the way.”
“We were very happy to have assistance from Lincoln Academy students, Finn, Nolen, and Rachael, during Gizmo Garden,” said ‘Gizmo’ Mike Lee, who coordinated the weeklong program along with Silver. “The high school leaders were tasked with helping supervise morning sessions, which involved everything from wiring, coding, construction, soldering and learning. They also led afternoon workstations involving soldering and attaching servo motors to Gizmos, and were involved in the creative aspects of the Gizmos. Even more than that, they were excellent mentors, and showed off the technological expertise that exists at Lincoln Academy.”
Participant Scott Petersen is an 8th grader at Nobleboro School who was in his third year as a Gizmo Garden participant. He appreciated the support of the LA students during the program. “The high schoolers were assertive, kind, and helpful. They were a strong and reliable support during the week, and they helped a lot of the participants feel less nervous about the program and meeting new people.”
“It was a wonderful experience to transition from a participant to a staff member,” said sophomore Rachael Schuster, who has been part of Gizmo Gardens for several years. “To be part of the behind-the-scenes process in such an innovative project was very interesting.”
Silver concluded, “we hope that high schoolers also are continuing to learn technology as they transition into mentoring roles. When they are leading a table full of younger students and a coding, wiring, soldering, or mechanical problem comes up, they wrestle with that problem and often figure it out themselves. Sometimes, they learn more that way than when they were students who were guided through challenges by adults.”