By Karen Stokes
It’s been said that students learn better and stay engaged longer by doing and creating. On Wednesday, members of the community gathered at Washington High School, 2525 N. Sherman Blvd, as Milwaukee Public Schools unveiled their new digital fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) aimed at exposing students to high-level technology.
Fab Labs are small workshops equipped with high-tech, computer-controlled technology that allows the creation of a wide variety of 3-D items.
Parent coordinator Roxie Jones explained that when utilizing the 3-D printer, the students have created puzzles, toys and even a functional wrench. Jones said that the printer is also capable of making edible items such as wrappers for sushi.
The Fab Lab was made possible through a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
“I’m so proud of the team at Washington High School. The Fab Lab grants are rigorous, a lot of work goes into this,” said Dr. Darienne Driver, MPS Superintenden. “A number of members of this community, our staff at the school, our students played a role of putting together this application. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Dr. Driver mentioned that discussion began on this project over a year and a half ago.
Included in the Fab Lab are two vinyl cutters, three 3-D-printers, a computer numerical control mill, a 3-D scanner, a laser engraver, plus the computers used to run each of them.
“The technology of the Fab Lab will be shared with the community,” said Mary Perry, senior economic development director of WEDC. “Collaborating with the community is part of the WEDC strategy.”
The idea for Fab Labs was conceived by Professor Neil Gershenfeld at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with Bakhtiar Mikhak.
“The real opportunity is to harness the inventive power of the world to locally design and produce solutions to local problems. It breaks every organizational boundary we can think of,” Gershenfeld explained in a lecture ‘Unleash your Creativity in a Fab’.
Fab Labs have spread around the world, and have been established in the remotest of places and countries.
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, the students provided a tour to demonstrate some of the capabilities of the high-tech equipment.
“We’re all excited about this,” said Angelina Terry, assistant principal in charge at Washington. “You will be amazed what our students can do and they’ve only recently been introduced to this technology.”
According to an MPS press release, Incorporating Fab Labs into educational programs of study has been shown to increase student engagement by providing hands-on opportunities to solve real world problems. In Fab Labs, students learn because they want to, they develop technical skill that builds pride in mastery, improves teamwork, teaches critical thinking, persistence and other 21st Century employability skills. MPS plans to create more Fab Labs within the district.
“This is the first of many ribbon cuttings of Fab Labs, we’re going to be at a number of schools showcasing the great work our students are doing in terms of 21st century learning in digital manufacturing,” said Dr. Driver.