Students build gadgets and confidence in Perkins Maker Club

In weekly meetings, students make everything from slime to Rube Goldberg machines to prosthetic hands

A student sits at a table molding homemade slime with his hands while two people look on.

The Maker Club manifesto encourages students to work together, to try new things and to respect one another.

June 13, 2018

A small group of Perkins School for the Blind students got together on a recent Tuesday evening and set to stirring mixes of water, glue and the compound borax. Some added shaving cream to their concoctions to ensure foaminess. All were left with their own personal supply of messy, gooey slime.

With graduation mere weeks away, some might expect an elaborate prank was in the making. However, inside the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology, it was simply another meeting of the Maker Club, a group that gets together once a week to make things like slime but also more complex and technical gadgets. With a manifesto that encourages self-belief, the club helps students build confidence, both in their abilities and their sense of the world around them.

“The club connects our kids to the tangible world in an important way, getting them to explore with their own senses and hands how things work,’” said Miriam Zisook, recreation enrichment class instructor at Perkins and staff leader of the club. “It provides those feelings of success that come from making something concrete.”

Launched three years ago, the Maker Club is open to all residential students while each project they take on is designed to sharpen their sensory, crafting and academic skills. In addition to their most recent batch of slime, they’ve come together to make Rube Goldberg machines, functioning doorbells, catapults and more.

“A lot of students have different ability levels, but here, they’re working as a team to build something,” added Huyentran Vo, coordinator of community programs in the Technology Center. “And everyone is able to contribute something.”

Other projects are designed to solve real problems, and in some cases, are completed in partnership with nearby community organizations and businesses. Last year, Perkins partnered with Lincoln-Sudbury’s middle and high schools to build prosthetic hands for people in need, assembling the parts from a 3D printer.

The club has been growing too, having started with a few devotees and today welcoming more than a dozen regulars. As it grows, Zisook hopes to “level up the learning,” both on campus and off. To do that, she plans to expand “Meet the Maker,” a periodic series of meet-and-greets with local innovators.

“When we’re able to host them, it’s meaningful in both directions,” she said. “Our kids get to learn about something new from the actual creators. Still, it’s also an opportunity for people in the maker community in Boston to learn about our kids’ experiences and how they can possibly create with accessibility in mind.”

At its core, though, the mission will remain the same.

“We want students to know, the next time they’re feeling frustrated - if some piece of assistive technology or even something in their life isn’t working - they can bring about change,” said Zisook. “Like these projects, life can also be shaped by students in a different and better way.”