Fabrication as an Educational Medium

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Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"Personal fabrication technologies provide a powerful educational tool that puts students into the driver’s seat in the design and engineering process, a “soup to nuts” learning experience that reinforces a number of the abstract concepts students learn in STEM classrooms. Computer design software, combined with low-cost, small scale manufacturing technologies, when integrated into science and technology classes, help educators craft physical models that help demonstrate abstract educational concepts. By removing the barriers of specialized resources and skill that currently prevent many ideas from being realized, personal fabrication technologies will excite and empower a new generation of inventors." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"Personal fabrication technologies provide a constructionist foundation to STEM education by providing a medium in which abstract problems are translated into the tangible world in a classroom setting. Constructionist learning is based on the idea that learning is an active process that works best when students are exposed to experiences, hands on projects and even failure so they can discover, first hand, underlying principles, concepts and facts. Based on the work of Jean Piaget, constructionist learning theory views the teacher as an essential facilitator and guide for their student’s voyage of discovery.

Mainstream acceptance of constructionist learning theory was accelerated by Seymour Papert, a visionary MIT professor of math, computer science and education.

Papert was an early proponent of the value of computers and multimedia as educational tools. Personal-scale manufacturing and software design tools did not exist while Papert was formulating his theories, yet he would likely embrace them as a valuable pedagogical tool. Students given access to design and fabrication tools are transformed from passive consumers of knowledge to active problem solvers, designers and producers. The gratification of designing and making a real physical object that solves a problem, or is a work of art, makes it possible for a student to own and experience the entire design cycle from conceptualization to physical realization. Finally, like computers and multimedia tools, personal fabrication technologies can be adapted to a broad range of learning styles and types of projects. For visually impaired and learning impaired students, physical models alleviate learning disparities associated with educational tools that rely on visual information or spatial reasoning.

Traditional STEM education has focused on teaching abstract concepts first, then later continuing to practical application and testing of the concept, an approach that introduces hands on learning dead last in the process. While a theory-first approach works well for many students, it’s not productive for students who prefer to learn using a trial and error approach, or who learn applications first and then work backwards, later, to the underlying theory. STEM educators recognize this challenge and initiatives such as NSF’s Discovery Research K-12 Program have made significant progress in creating instructional material that includes elements of active problem solving in the learning process. Often, however, even active problem solving exercises must be solved in the abstract, meaning the testing, fixing and validation process remains untested and intangible. In addition, the design challenge is often removed from daily life of the child. For example, while valuable, a science and engineering problem-solving exercise that assigns students to devise a device to prevent the next Gulf Oil spill may not appeal to otherwise gifted students. Some may not be able to drawn to solving a problem whose urgency is so distant to their daily lives. Others may feel the lesson is irrelevant since student solutions will never be tested or put to use. Traditional conceptual learning, even creative problem solving, may inadvertently act as a barrier to gifted students who would otherwise be attracted to the rich intellectual world of science and engineering. STEM education as it stands today, may put non-traditional learners at risk of turning away from further STEM education and potential career opportunities." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)

Directory of Personal Fabrication Courses at U.S. Universities

Source: [email protected], http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf

"In the U.S., pioneering STEM educators in high schools, technical colleges and universities have integrated personal fabrication technologies into their science and engineering curriculums." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)

Leading examples include:

Stanford University

professor Paulo Blikstein teaches a hands-on course to prepare education students to integrate personal fabrication technologies into their future classrooms. Students use prototyping machines (such as laser cutters and 3D printers) to design and create toys, games and other learning tools (“artifacts”) for children. Stanford students graduate from Blikstein’s class knowing how to use computers and personal fabrication technologies to design and create classroom learning kits and educational tools.

MIT's How to make (almost) anything

Students in a course called “How to make (almost) anything” apply personal fabrication technologies to solve real world problems. Taught by a leader in the field of personal fabrication, Neal Gershenfeld, students in the class range from engineers to artists to art historians. Over the course of a semester, students learn to use CAD software, work with a circuit board, and use a number of personal fabrication machines. The final semester project is each students’ designed and fabricated solution to a real world problem.

Cornell University

At Cornell, the [email protected] project is both the name of a 3D printer model, as well as an ongoing initiative aimed at STEM educators. Developed by Professor Hod Lipson and postdoctoral student Evan Malone, the [email protected] 3D printer offers open-sourced design blueprints for the printer, so anybody who is interested can download the design files, make their own [email protected], or improve upon its existing design. [email protected] works with a number of kid-friendly materials, including Play-Doh, cookie dough, and chocolate, as well as polymers and metals.

Technical development and support for [email protected] is provided by students and open source volunteers. A second major STEM initiative under the [email protected] umbrella is 3dprintables.org, a web site exchange of no-cost 3D electronic blueprints for educational tools and classroom models intended for use in K-12 STEM education. K- 12 students upload electronic blueprints onto the site for objects such as printable models of the molecular structure of a particular element, or the physical manifestation of a mathematical equation. Other students browse and download the collection of designs and print their selected object on their local [email protected] 3D printer. A growing collection of online electronic blueprints for a wide range of 3D printable items are available at 3Dprintables.org.

Lorain County Community College (LCCC)

LCCC is a leading personal manufacturing educator. Their Fab Lab is open to students and the general public. Students can take a one-credit course on Introduction to Personal Fabrication or can enroll in a non-credit workshop. The Fab Lab has personal-scale vinyl cutter, table-top milling machine and a laser cutter that can engrave text, graphics, and photographs onto a wide variety of materials (wood, acrylic, marble, mat board, leather, glass, and more)." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)

Directory of K-12 Personal Fabrication Education

Source: [email protected], http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf

The University of Virginia and Cornell's [email protected]

and Cornell: In conjunction with Cornell, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia was awarded a grant from the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition to develop a STEM curriculum based on [email protected]’s 3D printing technologies. Glen Bull, a professor of instructional technology founded the [email protected] initiative. Bull’s goal was to teach future STEM educators to integrate 3D printers into their instructional materials to help them explain mathematical and scientific principles used in engineering.

Curriculum development will take place under the umbrella of a lab called “The Children’s Engineering Institute” managed by Bull. University of Virginia education students will develop the [email protected] STEM teaching curriculum for a pilot group of elementary classrooms. At the National Technology Summit in DC, Karen Cator, Director of the U.S. Office for Educational Technology described the [email protected] initiative as “fantastic.”

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

DARPA launched a Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (MENTOR) initiative to deploy digital manufacturing equipment, including 3D printers, in public high schools throughout the country. STEM high school students will compete as teams to design and build cyber-electro-mechanical systems using personal manufacturing tools. These students will learn the introductory concepts they will need to someday build sophisticated robots and small unmanned aircraft. The program is intended to encourage students to study STEM subjects in college. DARPA will expand the program to over 1000 high schools over the next three years." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)

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