Education is one of the central pillars of the FabLab concept. The work of a FabLab is hands-on, immersive, outcome driven, and project-based. It is centred on the acquisition and immediate practical application of skills in digital design & manufacturing, coding & design thinking, as well as the operation & maintenance of equipment. STEM skills run through every facet of the learning, and the experience of the FabLabs within the FFI network however demonstrate that it is possible to embed FabLab into every curriculum area.
The real value of Fab Lab in education lies in the engagement that it delivers with rapid reward for and application of new learning. In only one or two hours learners leave with a product or item that they have designed and made themselves. This offers tremendous ownership and empowerment to learners of all ages and allows learning to take place in subject areas that are hard to teach or complex for a wide range of learners to access.
Fablab Nerve Centre has been supporting and encouraging the use of 3D printers in schools by teachers across the Curriculum as a tool to introduce and support STEM skills in wider learning. A key limitation to the use of 3D printers in schools is lack of access to a machine and lack of teachers confidence to operate it. We have delivered a programme to support 16 teachers to build their own 3D printers. Teachers were drawn from a range of subject specialisms and key stages.
A Teachers Handbook for 3D printing in the classroom has also been produced as resource to support the cross-curricular use of 3D printers in schools.
The role of Fablab has been crucial, not just as a catalyst for the project but in providing the initial training and ongoing support for the teachers. Feedback from the teachers has been very positive.
‘I have found that students often learn best when we get them out of the classroom and see maths in real life, ie measuring car parking spaces or the inside of the gym. The 3D printer allows us to take these findings and introduce scale - something many students find it hard to get their heads around.’ Michael Fegan, Mercy College Belfast.
‘This project is giving the children the skills for tomorrow. When they go out into the workplace where new technologies are invented, at least they will have the life skills there to cope with them and not be daunted’ Sandra Smyth, Portstewart Primary
A short film on the project:
The schools guide to 3D printing in the Classroom is available for free download