Jaymes Dec, Director of Innovation, Shares His Journey to Founding Franklin’s Makerspace

Jaymes Dec loves technology and art, as well as building and design, all of which he weaves into his inspiring teaching. He was an early advocate for makerspaces — creative places where students learn by building.

He co-founded the NYC Makery, which organized community pop-up technology workshops and makerspaces in basements, restaurants, art galleries, and schools. Named a “Teacher of the Future” by the National Association of Independent Schools and a Senior FabLearn Fellow by Stanford University, Mr. Dec has also gained industry recognition as President of Nerdy Derby, a non-profit that nurtures creativity in educational environments. In 2016, Mr. Dec was invited to the White House for a meeting of leaders in the Maker movement at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In 2012, He gave a TedX Talk on the virtues of hands-on learning; and co-authored a book entitled, Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids. Mr. Dec is a renowned maker educator excited to bring his experience to Franklin as Director of Innovation and Maker-in-Residence.

Our campus includes a state-of-the-art makerspace where students can tinker, design, build, test, share ideas, and gain knowledge through trial, error, and invention. Mr. Dec helped to design the space as well as Franklin’s cutting-edge STEAM-based maker curriculum to encourage innovation, foster entrepreneurship, and engage students in hands-on learning. Through many creative project-based learning experiences, students will cultivate curiosity and ingenuity while also building collaboration and problem-solving skills.

We sat down with Mr. Dec to learn more about his path to Franklin and hopes for students embarking on their own educational journeys when we open next fall.

Please tell us a bit about your background.

I studied economics at NYU. While there, I co-founded a company called City Hunt. We produced team building games for big companies in New York City and then for clients in Europe, Asia, and North America. After some time, I returned to NYU for grad school, where I earned a Master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications. I learned way more than I ever imagined and loved the program. I also found that I enjoyed teaching, and after graduating became a program manager at GreenFab, a National Science Foundation high school STEM program teaching sustainable design and green technologies to students in the South Bronx. From there, I moved to the Marymount School of New York to teach technology, where I developed the first MIT-certified Fab Lab at an all-girls school. This past year, I’ve been teaching at Dwight Global, the online program of Dwight School in New York — Franklin’s affiliate — and am very excited to be part of the founding team of Franklin. I’m also an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Teachers College.

You’re known for creating makerspaces. Does the coding class you currently teach at Dwight Global Online School have a makerspace element? 

The act of making is an essential part of all my classes. I teach students to express themselves with tools. Learning to use a tool expands your sense of self and your range of expressibility. I truly believe that quote, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” For example, the pencil is a tool that students use to write. The act of writing gives you a superpower to leave marks on the world around you and communicate over time and space. Researchers have found that writing helps children develop their minds — it physically reshapes our brains. I believe that all tools give us superpowers. Code happens to be the tool that we use in this class. It’s like an art class or a writing class. I teach students how to use tools and invite them to be expressive with them. 

When you’re making something that you care about, you have clear goals and are intrinsically motivated because your project is an extension of yourself into the world. I teach students how to learn…or teach them how to teach themselves to learn. Seymour Papert, one of the fathers of AI who also created Logo, the first computer language explicitly designed for children, was a big influence on me. He also developed the idea of constructionism, which says that children should be active participants in the construction of their own learning. I agree.

What will be different about Franklin’s makerspace?

Most new makerspaces have to fit into an existing classroom or space and schools would then have to find ways to use those makerspaces within their existing culture and curriculum, which can be a difficult fit in a traditional school. With Franklin’s makerspace, we have the opportunity to design the entire space from scratch thoughtfully with the architects to incorporate design elements that make the space easier and safer to use. We have a classroom with a removable divider, for example, so that we can teach in the space while tools, from 3D printers and laser cutters and noisier ones for woodworking, are running at the same time. The makerspace will be able to accommodate all sorts of projects, from robotics and engineering to fashion and jewelry design.

What’s most exciting is that we have an opportunity to build a culture and curriculum with making in the DNA. The makerspace will be used by classes across the school, as students apply their learning through invention and self-expression with different tools and materials.

You’ve said that young designers, artists, and scientists are the best hope for our imperiled planet. Please share more about that.

Our world and planet, unfortunately, need lots of help. To solve problems like climate change, inequality, and continued pandemics, we’ll need more creative thinkers and innovators like designers, engineers, scientists, and artists. And we’ll need them to be from diverse backgrounds. I was an early proponent of going from STEM to STEAM to integrate the creativity of the arts and the skills they nurture into the approach of presenting and understanding scientific concepts and solving problems. It’s essential for teachers to encourage students to be expressive by writing a poem, making a drawing, or building a robot. Students learn best when creating artifacts that they’ll share with the class and with the world. So they will be the ones to create solutions to save our planet.

Do you have a makerspace at home?

I have all the makings of one! My basement is filled with cool tools like vinyl cutters and 3D printers, soldering irons, microcontrollers, and Lego robotics, which I used to build pop-up maker spaces. I use some of the tools with my current students. I should add that my backyard is also home to two chickens, Betty and Wilma, named after the wives in the Flintstones. We got them for their eggs, but they turned out to be really social and they like to hang out with us and keep us entertained.

What are you most excited about for Franklin’s launch this fall?

I'm really looking forward to meeting all of the students — and learning what they’re excited about making in our new makerspace!

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