If you can only buy one machine for a space like this, get a laser cutter. There wasn't a week that went by that the hum of the laser and the roar of the vent wasn't heard in the Lab. From kindergarten garden stakes, to 2nd graders making name tags, to 6th graders creating catapults, to gifts made for our retirees, our Epilog Mini vectored and rastored it's way through wood and cardboard.
Are 2nd graders too young to create in 3D? Nope. We had two 2nd graders decided they wanted to make something on the 3D printer so very little help, they did. More then once as a matter of fact. First I had them draw a picture of what they wanted to make. Then we talked about how they would create it using standard shapes. Next, I set them up with 123D Design and told them to play around. Before I knew it, they were ready to print. One of them also learned how to use the 3D scanner to print something they made out of clay. We also had a class of 2nd graders making pedestals for statues they created. Some of them wanted to make circles but had never used a compass. One mini-lesson later they knew about radius, diameter, and they were making circles everywhere.
There is never enough time for a kid to complete a project in one class period. They love to make stuff and are so focused and on task. Seldom did a student come in one time, make something and leave. They came in multiple recess periods or during study halls. And it doesn't matter what material they are using. We had kindergarteners making towers out of plastic straws, third graders making buttons for the business they created in their "mini-society" on the laser cutter, second graders building pedestals out of cardboard. If you put stuff out...they will build.
This being the first year of the Lab, I wasn't sure how the teachers were going to make use of the space. After a hands-on visit to the Lab during our professional development day in August, and a quick visit to the Lab with their class the first few weeks of school, our teachers got creative. Every grade made use of the Lab this year...some for multiple projects. I have already been talking to a number of teachers about new projects for next year. We also have teachers that have been doing "making" projects in their classes for year. Our Kdg-3rd grade science teacher has her 3rd graders design and create space craft at the end of their space unit.
Before the Lab was even set up, I was sent off to some great learning experiences. "Design, Do, Discover" run by Castilleja School (CA-thanks Angi) and Marymount School (NY-thanks Jaymes), and "Constructing Modern Knowledge" (thanks Gary Stager) were amazing. I would encourage anyone (classroom teacher, S.T.E.M. teacher, administrator) to attend both these. I got so many ideas and made some amazing contacts...the success of the first year of this Lab is in part to these two events. I also need to recommend getting out and seeing other Labs. Thanks to the Lighthouse Charter School (CA-thanks Aaron) and The Katherine Delmar Burke School (CA-thanks Jenny) for opening their doors and letting me take lots of pictures.
#5...You gotta have friends.
The S.T.E.M./FabLab/MakerSpace world is still young and a fairly small community. The best networking group for me is "Resources for K-12 Fab Labs and Makerspaces (https://sites.google.com/site/k12makers/). This is an amazing collection of professionals posting, questioning, answering and sharing on any and every topic of interest to school Fab Labs and Makerspaces.
#4...Share what you know.
As teachers, we sometimes stay to ourselves in our own classrooms and seldom share our ideas with anyone other then our grade level team. If you're part of "Maker Movement" in schools, that doesn't work. Since we opened our Lab in August, we have had a constant stream of teachers, administrators and students from other schools (and even our state university) come through our doors wanting to know what we are doing. I have also taken "The show on the road" and have been honored to present at the National Science Teachers Association S.T.E.M. Forum this past May. I am also hoping to present at a number of other conferences over the next year or so. I know we don't have all the answers, but I have found that sharing our journey with others has been appreciated by everyone I have spoken to. I have also shared technical info as I've solved problems in the Lab...I tried "NinjaFlex" filament on the 3D printer. The settings can be tricky with this type of material so when I got it to a place that I was happy with, I posted those on our blog. Those have been the most viewed posts.
"First Attempt In Learning" = F.A.I.L. I have a number of quotes on the door into the Lab. As the students enter in they can read them and it sets the tone for what's going to happen behind the door. Some of my favorites are: "I have not failed 10,000 times...I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work." Thomas A. Edison; "I've heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true." Grandpa Joe (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl); "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." Sir Ken Robinson; and "Imagination is more important the knowledge." Albert Einstein.
As we look to next year, we have made some changes and additions to what goes on in the Lab. Starting with this summer, we are offering 3 different summer school classes. One will be a 6 weeks, half day program to introduce 3rd-6th grade students to everything in the Lab through both teacher inspired projects to project of the students own creation (this class filled up in the first hour registration). The other two classes will be 1 week, all day but will be gender specific. Boys will one week, girls will be the next. As of today, our girls class is filled with 14 ladies and our boys have 6. (That brings up another topic that we'll discuss in the future.) Another change will be our schedule next year. This past year I had 3 specific grades/topics to teach (kindergarten, first and fourth grades). This coming school year, the schedule for the Lab is wide open...teachers are encouraged to sign up for days and times that fit in with projects they have going on in their classrooms. The last thing that will be different in the 2015-2016 school year is that we are offering grade specific mini-session. Teacher will sign up for a 90min session on a topic specifically aimed to help their students better use the Lab during the year as they come up with project ideas. Based on the projects that each grade did this past year, these are the concepts we are offering:
2nd grade: Scratch Jr on the iPad
3rd grade: MaKey MaKey & Scratch
4th grade: Laser cutter & Inkscape
5th grade: 3D printer & 123D Design
6th grade: Circuits, soldering and littleBits
I know I said these 10 things were not in any order, but "The #1 thing learned from a first year S.T.E.M./FabLab/MakerSpace" is....I am so blessed to be here at 'Iolani School. 'Iolani is a unique place...there are very few schools that I know of that are like it. The history, the tradition, the alumni, the parents, the kids, the staff and the administration are all amazing. One group, in particular, has made this Lab and the learning that is going on here happen. There was a quote that came across Twitter the other day..."Students take risks when teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when school leaders take risks" (Brad Currie). 'Iolani is taking a risk by investing in this aspect of education. Not just at the Lower School but in the Upper School with the Sullivan Center for Innovation and Learning (take a look at this http://sullivan.iolani.org/). The support and encouragement that comes down from the "Top" is empowering.