Posted in Blog on 18 August 2016
While most kids their age are glued to various digital devices, often wasting hours playing mindless games or watching cat videos, 164 fourth and fifth graders, along with eight elementary school teachers, have been using those same devices to explore new paths to learning. In 15 classrooms across Texas and Virginia, students are using manufacturing design and digital fabrication processes to create physical models, learning the underlying mathematical concepts and using them in meaningful contexts.
The FabLab Classroom pilot is a National Science Foundation project focusing on the “E” in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The project started at the University of North Texas and is based on a scaled-down version of Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab, which originated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Students design their projects in 3D on a computer, then make the item using simple materials.
A wide range of digital tools and facilities available to students and their teachers are transforming the K-12 education system. Fab Labs and makerspaces provide creative areas where kids can design, invent and learn. Video games (e.g. Minecraft) and virtual reality (VR) are being employed as design-based learning tools. 3D printers are more readily available — in schools, in collaborative spaces and at home. All these tools and the widespread commitment to STEM education are introducing kids to 3D design at a very young age.
The focus should be on how schools can help children realize they are not just consumers.
There is no shortage of national interest and enthusiasm for STEM. President Obama believes that more STEM-focused curricula can help rectify America’s education woes and the decline of the American manufacturing industry. Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education Jim Shelton says, “STEM education is important for every student, no matter what they want to do in life.”
STEM advocates believe this new generation of young people is being inspired by increased access to new kinds of tools, machines and methods. Is it simply the democratization of manufacturing? Or is the maker mindset and further enablement of hands-on, design-based education driving a seismic shift in mentality — from consumer to producer?design-based learning, k12, STEM