Mechanical systems require purchasing an individual die for each premade shape. In contrast, you can use
computer-controlled systems to create
any shape you can imagine and draw
on the computer.
We are already benefiting from this
capability. In a project supported by
the U.S. Department of Education, we
are providing sets of physical manipulatives to teachers to facilitate math
and science exploration. Teams of
graduate students used to create these
manipulatives by manually cutting
them out with scissors, but now computer-controlled fabrication systems
can automate this task.
Providing teachers with personal
fabrication systems is the next logical
step so they can download and fabricate the manipulatives themselves.
This makes it possible to personalize manipulatives through choice of
medium—cardstock, vinyl, chipboard,
etc.—fabricate them on demand, and
individualize them for specific instructional objectives.
There are educational opportunities
for addressing subject matter content
across almost every subject and grade
level. Paper engineering dates to the
13th century and has been used to illustrate a variety of topics involving
natural science, astronomy, and mathematics. Today’s school activities address many of these same topics.
Science. John Lahr, a U.S. Geological
Service seismologist, and his colleague
Tau R. Alpha have adapted geological
and earth science resources that teachers can use to construct models for
school science projects. For example,
the model below of the globe depicting the Earth’s major tectonic plates is
designed to be assembled with the aid
of a tennis ball.
Mathematics. Creation of 3D polygons can assist with the study of geometry in mathematics. The National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics
(NCTM) publication Polyhedron
Models for the Classroom offers a good
starting point for math projects. You
can purchase this through NCTM
or obtain a free PDF through the U.S.
government’s Educational Resources
Teachers can use these projects to
stimulate interest in math without re-
uSeD wITh PerMSSIon, Sherry LaSSITer, MIT
quiring extensive math skills for basic
projects, whereas advanced projects
can involve extensive mathematics
Magnus Wenniger, author of the
introduction to Polyhedron Models for
the Classroom, now uses a program
called Stella to design his projects. This
program provides a 3D perspective as
well as the 2D view needed for construction and assembly.
Elementary grades. Teachers in elementary grades can use static cling
inkjet film to produce customized
You can apply die-cut vinyl images
and shapes to a background via static-cling, then reposition them to create
new scenes. You can use characters and
scenes for storyboarding projects in language arts, and historical maps and sites
can facilitate social studies instruction.
Existing educational software applications also lend themselves to use
with personal fabrication systems.
This includes software such as the
Diorama Designer, the Neighborhood
MapMachine, and the Neighborhood
Construction Kit offered through Tom
Makers designed these programs
with materials creation and development in mind. As personal fabrication
systems become more widely used,