Jul 05 2011

Make to Learn: 3D Fabrication Tool Teaches STEM Skills

The Buzz Blog learns about Fab@School Designer at the ISTE 2011 conference.

One of the highlights of my week at the ISTE 2011 conference was learning about Fab@School Designer, a software that helps teachers and students create 2D designs, pop-ups, 3D projects and even simple machines. Designs can be fabricated by hand or with a 2D or 3D fabricator. (At the show, booth representatives fabricated a variety of gears and other 3D objects.)

The goal is for students to develop important STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and have fun as they transform their ideas from mind's eye into physical form.

During the conference, I met with author, illustrator and FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds to discuss STEM-based education and the "Make to Learn" philosophy that drives Fab@School Designer. Reynolds would like to see STEM turn into "STEAM," to account for arts programming, and says that the culmination of learning is students showing what they know in creative ways.

"We can study science and use technology, become engineers, understand what math is and help problem solve," he told me. "But sharing that – through theater or an animated film or a book or a story – is such a cool way to show what we know."

The Next Big Thing

Reynolds believes that every school and home will one day have its own 3D fabricator. "You'll be able to make your own cutlery and chess sets, and it'll be totally cool," he said.

For now, with Fab@School Designer, teachers and students can fabricate using ready-made designs, modify existing designs or create designs from scratch. The software's low-tech/high-tech approach allows users to

  • cut and fold designs by hand;
  • send designs to the Silhouette, a machine about the size of a typical desktop printer, to cut, score and perforate fold-lines on paper, cardstock, vinyl and other materials; or
  • fabricate solid 3D objects using the Curry/Cornell Fab@School 3D fabricator, a variation of Cornell University's award-winning 3D fabricator, Fab@Home, that's suitable for schools.

Peter H. Reynolds also spoke with EdTech at the ISTE 2010 conference. To hear his tale of how one teacher's encouragement early in life sparked his creativity and career aspirations, check out our video on "The Power of Innovative Teaching and Learning."

FableVision has been working with Cornell's College of Engineering to develop Fab@School. The Curry/Cornell Fab@School 3D fabricator will be released as an open-source kit. "The big resin printers are expensive," Reynolds said. "Our goal is to get them down to around $400, but [we're] not there yet."

According to Reynolds, FableVision has "always been about story - about kids making things." That goal will continue to propel the company forward as more schools embrace innovative STEM tools and programs.

"I'm a visual thinker," Reynolds added, "and I think a lot of kids out there are too. They're creative – they want to express what they know in color, with sound, with drama and with story."

For more ISTE coverage, get the full picture in the ISTE 2011 Wrap-up.

Follow Buzz on Twitter: @buzzgarwood


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