other educational programs will begin
to incorporate this capability.
If you would like to explore some
of the possibilities now, Parent’s
Choice—a nonprofit organization that
offers guidance on children’s media—
provides downloadable templates
for constructing a 3D town. The free
templates include 3D houses, shops,
schools, libraries, and other buildings
along with instructional activities developed by Peggy Stearns.
and Workforce Readiness
Grants from NSF and the MacArthur
Foundation have made it possible to
implement Fab Lab initiatives that
focus on engineering design and
workforce readiness. The Sustainable
South Bronx project established by
Majora Carter received a MacArthur
grant to bring a Fab Lab to that community. Similarly, an NSF grant has
allowed the Midwest Digital Fabrication Partnership to establish a Fab
Lab in that area.
Personal fabrication systems are inexpensive cousins of MIT’s fabrication
laboratories and can be used in similar ways to encourage scientific thinking and development of authentic
engineering skills. Paper engineering
engages students at many levels. It involves abstract concepts and visualization, as well as problem solving in the
physical world. Computer-controlled
die cutters expand and extend these
kinds of projects.
And there is another long-term
benefit. Increased student engagement
in science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM) fields has
been identified as an important national priority. In fact, the NSF has
concluded that this will be critical to
the nation’s future in a competitive
Personal Fabrication Systems
A half-dozen personal fabrication
system models are available, and
more are likely to emerge in this fast-moving field. Graphtec offers industrial models for $15,000 or more
but also offers personal fabrication
systems. The principles on which
manufacturers base their models are
similar: More capable models simply
handle thicker, larger materials.
The CraftROBO, a unit designed for
personal use, may be a useful starting
point. The CraftROBO Pro is a larger
model that can be used in the school
library or media center to produce
multiple sets of materials for every
child in a class. The CraftROBO costs
about $300, and the CraftROBO Pro
is less than $1,000.
Fabrication technologies provide
exposure to many mathematical
and engineering concepts. Scaffolded practice for students in upper
elementary grades and above
uSeD wITh PerMSSIon, ToM SnyDer ProDuCTIonS
provides the opportunity to see abstract visualizations—including students’ own drawings and sketches on
the computer—translated into physical objects, offering an opportunity to
explore these ideas at an early age in a
very concrete way.
In later grades, students can study
compound machines in science class,
use mathematics to design their own
digital models, and then fabricate their
designs as three-dimensional objects.
These types of activities give students
direct experience with vectors and
geometric transformations that are
useful in many STEM-related fields.
Engineers and architects move
between the digital world of the computer and the physical world, visualizing the result that occurs when a 2D
drawing on the screen is transformed
into a 3D object. Students in school
can understand mathematical concepts by making connections between
virtual and physical representations.
These activities can simultaneously
prepare them for 21 -century careers.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
Parent’s Choice: http://parentschoice.org/arti-
Sustainable South Bronx Project: http://ssbxfab.org
Tau Rho Alpha’s paper models: http://jclahr.
Tom Snyder Productions: www.tomsnyder.com