The Thrall Family Makerspace opens up a world of hands-on imagination, design, and exploration for students and teachers.

The lower level of Hansen Hall has seen many changes over the decades, but the newest renovations might be the most exciting yet.

Thanks to a $150,000 contribution from the family of Jerome Thrall ’44, the entire floor has been remodeled to create a makerspace for Morgan Park Academy students and teachers, opening up a series of interconnected spaces designed for imaginative, collaborative, and hands-on learning, building, and exploration.

Opened in Fall 2018, the Thrall Family Makerspace contains resources and space for computers and multimedia; design and construction with wood, cardboard, and textiles; robotics, electronics, and 3D printing; and a world of hands-on science, including a full-scale kitchen.

Students and teachers are able to innovate and create in a space that promotes experience-based learning and an attitude of tinkering, exploration, and discovery.

“This new space is designed to meet the needs of creative students and faculty,” Head of School Mercedes Z. Sheppard said. “It supports critical thinking as well as creativity, allows for increased collaboration between students, and encourages faculty to work together in designing cross-discipline curriculum.”

Many of these activities have long had a place in our classrooms and our curriculum, but as maker activities have expanded, it made sense to create a dedicated makerspace that includes appropriate tools, work areas and materials.


The makerspace also allows for a more deeply ingrained level of critical thinking and increases student engagement as they are more quickly able to see the outcomes and consequences playing out in front of them.

“College deans have cited fear of failure as a growing problem among high-achieving young students, but an emphasis of both process and trial and error turns failure into a learning experience and a base for innovation and further exploration,” Director of Curriculum & Instruction Jennifer Schmidt said. “Research has also shown that learning by doing boosts brain development, motor skills, and executive function.”

The project was a true collaboration within the MPA community, with early input and planning from not only faculty and staff but also AP Physics students passionate about our new space for creation and innovation.

“A makerspace allows students to learn through application, instead of simply demonstrating their expertise of concepts through application,” Assistant Head of School Vincent Hermosilla said.

“Balancing innovation and tradition has been a staple of an MPA education. This new space allows the Academy to continue its 21st century push.”

Students learn coding from the beginner level to AP Computer Science; create multimedia including videos, podcasts, and photography portfolios; and explore new worlds through virtual reality goggles and 3D printing. At hand are a fleet of new iMac computers and ultra-portable laptops with state-of-the-art software and an upgraded fiber 500MB internet network, plus DJ consoles, microphones, cameras, and green screens. Robotics is booming, from simple building kits to the advanced work of the Upper School robotics team, which builds a robot each year for tournament competition.

The makerspace includes an additional space for hands-on science that complements the third-floor chemistry lab renovated a few years ago thanks to D. Stephen Menzies ’73 and the Class of 1964. Lower & Middle School students begin to explore biology, chemistry, and physics here with lab tables, burners, microscopes, and other science equipment. Also available is a full-scale kitchen with sinks, stovetop range and oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, and more. Students learn about nutrition and the science of food and also enjoy after-school enrichment classes focused on cooking and baking.

In the woodshop and building area, students of all ages design and construct creations from wood, cardboard, and textiles under faculty guidance. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and even visual art come to life as students start with tools as simple as a hammer and nails or needle and thread and progress to safely use machines such as a table saw, miter saw, laser cutter, drill press, sewing machine, and computer-controlled wood-cutting machine. The shop allows students to explore building and creating and put the “maker” in makerspace.