STEM Fab Labs
Digital fabrication facilitates a revolutionary schema for embedding authentic learning experiences in the K-12 context. The concept (designed around FabLab model originally conceived by renowned physicist, inventor, and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Neil Gershenfeld), is to provide students access to the environment, skills, advanced materials and technology to make "almost" anything. These transformative STEM labs blend traditional analog tools (like woodworking equipment and soldering stations) with rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing tools (like 3D printers, microcomputers, and CNC machines) to empower students to create functional, market-ready solutions to real problems.
However, opening an effective STEM Fab Lab in a formal education setting requires much more than simply purchasing equipment and retrofitting a couple of classrooms. Successfully embedding digital fabrication labs in schools requires a well-trained, professional staff that understands both the technical skills and pedagogical framework to leverage these high-tech labs to transform how students engage in the learning process. Digital fabrication labs, when leveraged to their potential, offer K-12 schools the ideal mechanism to fully realize the vision of constructivist philosophies of experiential learning. When fully integrated into a school's culture, the labs effectively expose the deficiencies of a hyper-focus on content mastery, and provide an effective mechanism for students to cultivate the essential skills (like collaboration, critical thinking, and innovation) and technical fluency necessary to thrive in the modern workforce.
Our professional development is designed to equip educators to empower students to reach higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy by truly engaging in synthesis and evaluation through digital fabrication. It is clear that students, now more than ever, desire and deserve opportunities to engage, explore, experience, and create. Worldwide, digital fabrication is changing the way people engage in problem solving and product development. when properly implemented in formal education settings, digital fabrication presents students with opportunities to develop these skills at an accelerated rate as they create functional solutions to authentic problems. In the process, students not only develop a deeper understanding of content that is anchored to contextually relevant problems, they also refine essential skills that empower them to effectively manage projects beyond the scope of traditional educational schema. This holistic approach to learning provides students with more robust, meaningful, and transferable learning experiences and accentuated by regular access to STEM Fab Labs.
STEM Mindset & Essential Skills
In the past decade, STEM education surged to the forefront of education initiatives, as leaders embraced the now common acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. As this movement has evolved, it has become clear that in order to prepare students for the demands of modern, dynamic workforce needs, students must cultivate a STEM mindset that empowers them as agile problem solvers. A STEM mindset equips students to effectively identify, access, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and apply information to learn new skills and solve complex problems. Additionally, workforce leaders unanimously agree that while academic content provides a strong foundation, students must additionally develop essential skills like critical thinking, productive collaboration, creative problem solving, and effective communication. Digital fabrication labs provide a significant spark to catalyze schools and school systems to elevate student mastery of essential skills while also enhancing how students engage with traditional academic content. The devX model is strategically designed to provide leaders with the tools necessary to support this transformation (to value essential skills at the same level as content mastery) and to empower teachers to shift their role to facilitate higher levels of learning through digital fabrication.
As Dr. Gershenfeld observed, the third digital revolution is anchored in the the convergence of bits and atoms. That is to say, digital fabrication represents the seamless integration of computation and physical creation. In response to industry needs across the globe, school systems are increasingly working to incorporate computer science. As an emergent field in K-12 education, computer science presents a handful of new challenges for systems to consider. One of the most noted barriers is student recruitment. Many students, especially students from traditionally underrepresented populations, do not have access to early experiences that help them cultivate an interest and aptitude in computing science. Digital fabrication, particularly in middle school, offers a unique on-ramp for schools to expose students to meaningful engagements in computer science through physical computing. Rather than simply coding a character to run across the screen in a rudimentary video game, physical computing empowers students to experience the tangible impact of coding as they use sensors, microcomputers, and a variety of output devices (like motors and LED lights). This tangible experience serves as an incredible introduction to the capabilities of computing that helps students develop a STEM identity that can pay dividends long after the introductory experiences.
The team at devX is internationally recognized as pioneers and leaders in developing and supporting school-based digital fabrication labs. Since developing one of the most effective school-based FabLab's at STEM School Chattanooga in 2015, the team led the development of the largest school-based FabLab network in the world through the Volkswagen eLab initiative in Southeast Tennessee. This scaled initiative led to the development of a replicable model that our team is now leading across the United States, currently opening 17 labs in central Indiana and Milwaukee. We have seen the impact of digital fabrication on STEM learning for all students and we are eager to help bring that impact to your school/system. We provide turn-key services including lab design and build-out, teacher and administrator initial professional development, and up to three years of on-going support.