PORTSMOUTH — Soon to open at 1 Raynes Ave. is a common think space for high school students and their teachers to study artificial intelligence and machine learning in a community computer lab setting.

A joint effort between Michael Megliola and Jeff Gunn, the space will offer free classes in various computer science modules, born out of the pair's shared interest in teaching within a context slightly different than school curricula today. Called LoisLab, the computer lab is intended to be a more hands-on, self-directed environment, allowing students to experiment and try new things, while also helping teachers develop up-to-date curriculum.

"There’s a need in computer science to stay current, and there’s a community of people in the profession who are really happy to learn and to teach together," Megliola said. "But there’s no opportunity or place for them to interact with students. Meanwhile, there’s this unbelievably committed community of teachers, but it's extremely rare for them to be full-time computer science teachers."

LoisLab is dual purpose, he said, welcoming students and teachers while integrating industry professionals. "If we can help train teachers, then they’ll take that back to their classrooms, and we'll get some leverage for the effort we put in," Megliola said.

Computer science isn't what it was when Megliola first entered the profession and students today are essentially entering an entirely different industry.

Megliola, co-founder of Trovo LLC, a local software developer, became acquainted with Gunn through a venture in which Gunn mentored his son; an autonomous kayak project. Gunn previously spent three years as a maker in residence at Berwick Academy in South Berwick, Maine, and is a member of Port City Makerspace.

Portsmouth High School has already picked up a machine learning class curriculum that Megliola and Gunn wrote together, and a space to ramp up their efforts was simply the next step.

"We’re hopeful that other professionals will then plug in and say, 'I know about data science, I know about another form of engineering,'" Megliola said.

LoisLab, named after Megliola's mother, a former educator, will start offering two courses the third week in March, on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

"Some students are going to light up and say, 'Wow, that’s my thing,'" Megliola said, noting any students who frequent Diversions Puzzles and Games in downtown Portsmouth would likely love the kind of work LoisLab is doing.

"There is a subset of students who learn in a slightly different way, and when they’re presented with the opportunity to solve a problem, that can be a lot more engaging or exciting," Gunn said. "The way we’re approaching the material here is sort of with that in mind. Kids can really get excited when they can dig into something and stretch a little bit and be creative."

LoisLab will also teach robotics, and currently has modular robots and 3D printers on site, enabling students to think about what problems they want to solve, and various ways to solve them.

"We want them to be completely original, and we want them to understand every single thing going on," Megliola said. "They can create something and fail well."

Megliola said they're actively seeking girls to join their courses to encourage female representation into the computer science field.

For more information, visit www.loislab.org.