FabLearn Labs (formerly known as FabLab@School) are a world wide growing network of educational digital fabrication labs that put cutting-edge technology for design and construction – such as 3D printers and laser cutters and robotics – into the hands of middle and high school students.

Such labs are a place for invention, creation, discovery and sharing, a space of inquiry where everyone learns and knowledge gets integrated into personal interests and daily life.

FabLearn Labs, which are embedded in technology, permit the acknowledgement and embracing of different learning styles and epistemologies, engendering a convivial environment in which students can concretize their ideas and projects with intense personal engagement.

Background

The intellectual roots of FabLearn Labs (and much of the other work within TLTL) extend back to the work of Seymour Papert and his collaborators at the MIT Media Lab. Papert, a pioneer in the field of educational technologies, developed Logo, a programming language designed for children and the LEGO robotics system. Papert's "constructionist" perspective (a belief that children learn most effectively when they build artifacts and share with peers) is at the heart of the FabLearn Labs program.

The original FabLab idea was conceived as a creative space for university students, and local inventors. The concept was transplanted successfully to community centers and entrepreneurial hothouses around the globe. Paulo Blikstein, who began researching digital fabrication in education in 2004 as part of his PhD. work, created the FabLab@School concept when he joined the Stanford faculty in 2008, and designed the first-ever digital fabrication lab at a School of Education.

Goal

Innovation and collaborative problem solving are core skills for virtually any STEM career, and yet those are the very elements that have been pushed out of schools by the mandates of standardized testing. Most high school students will graduate without the experience of having ever designed a solution and built a working prototype. FabLearn Labs aims to be the space where this exploration is possible.

The goal of some of the activities at the FabLearn Labs is to engage children as quickly as possible in real projects, creating an authentic context for learning. Good projects create the need to learn more and this process motivates students to learn more about a specific subject and to learn to learn. FabLearn Labs allow children to experiment, take risks, and play with their own ideas, giving them permission to create, imagine, and build.

Process

A traditional school science lab depends on a highly scripted instructional model. All students progress in linear fashion. The FabLearn Labs model relies on open-ended questions as a starting point, with no "correct" answer at the other end. In this hands-on environment, students chart their own course from idea to finished artifact, and no two students' journeys are exactly the same. While the traditional model emphasizes uniformity and predictability, FabLearn Labs emphasizes collaboration and creative problem-solving.

The project has seven main components:

  • A carefully-designed teacher preparation program, refined over the last few years, and tested in multiple countries and cultures. Also, we developed strategies for a full integration with school curricula.
  • A set of tens of activities designed for children together with teacher guides, allowing students to engage in cutting-edge scientific investigation and engineering projects.
  • Software tools for scientific modeling and simulation, and equipment for sensor-enabled scientific experiments in physics and chemistry.
  • Easy to use, age-appropriate robotics and sensing equipment.
  • A fully-developed research program, with custom-made impact measures and learning metrics especially designed for digital fabrication and project-based environments.
  • A special focus on education and on the connection with the disciplines (sciences, math, engineering)
  • Lower cost of implementation and ownership, intensive use of re-purposed and low-cost materials.

Results

When children are allowed to experiment, invent, and investigate their own intellectual passions, they begin to see themselves as learners who have good ideas and can transform those ideas into reality. We have accumulated multiple research results and peer-reviewed publications that speak to the effectiveness of this approach (see the Publications page).

Continuation

There are currently FabLearn Labs installations on the Stanford University campus (California), in Moscow (Russia), Bangkok (Thailand), Palo Alto (California), Barcelona (Spain), Melbourne (Australia), Guadalajara (Mexico), and Aarhus (Denmark). Additional installations are planned for East Palo Alto (California), Brazil, Finland, and Poland in 2016.

FabLearn Labs continues to create a community of researchers, educators, designers, and makers to discuss and explore digital fabrication in education, making, and hands-on learning for the 21st Century. Some of the projects that support this community are the FabLearn conference at Stanford University, the FabLearn Europe conference, and the FabLearn Fellows Program.