Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bring back the Makers

Fabrication Lab at Stanford
This past week I spent two days learning about digital fabrication and the maker subculture.  The conference was held at Stanford University and was called FabLearn.  According to Wikipedia "digital fabrication is a process that joins architecture with the construction industry through the use of 3D modeling software and CNC machines."  The maker subculture is defined as "the technology-based  extension of the DIY culture." (again according to wikipedia).  For two days I spent time on Stanford's campus discussing FabLearn, how to bring these two ideas into education.  How these two ideas are part of the movement in education where students need to be come creators and makers, not just memorizers.  For two days I looked at how creating projects from the design up can help students become better learners.  Many projects were interdisciplinary and teachers spent time teaching other disciplines as well math, art, history, science were all pretty interwoven.  The time spent was giving me flashbacks to my middle school shop classes: woodworking, metal welding, and print making and my home economics classes.  These are the low tech versions of what I spent the time learning about.  These have also seemed to slowly begin to disappear from the education setting.

I sat in a class that was similarly designed like those Middle School classrooms with huge workspace tables where four or five could spread out metal drawers underneath us where tools were stored, and open space.  The difference was that around the edges were 3-d printers, laser cutters, ventilation systems and more than one computer.   We spent some time in processing computer language using pre-existing libraries to design a lamp made from paper (you could make it from other materials but paper is low cost for workshops).

Laser Cutting out the Lamp 
Computer Program (photo by Phyllis Wright)
Our presenter was the creator of the software and a student working on her masters degree at MIT.  We created a "codeable object" as she called it.  I must admit it was a lot of fun.  I was able to manipulate the code using mathematics to build various designs that then using the laser cutter I cut out on paper and built the lamp.  The whole process took about two hours.  There is a downfall that it took a very long time for all of use to use the laser cutter.  Depending upon the design details it took about 10-15 minutes to print, plus the top and the tissue paper that was about 30 minutes per person.  I did not time it but it was a lot of down time, that everyone in the class noticed.  Since it is also a laser, you can not leave it unattended, there must be someone there at all times.  We talked about how some schools have open times where students can come and print, others stager the projects so multiple items are happening at once (this is not as hectic as it seems), others just live with the down time.

I could see having the students multi-task with other assignments for the class they are in.  They could be working on multiple items in the class at once so that during down time they have something else to do as they wait.  Classrooms become chaos but a controlled chaos since you need to plan for this. I could also see use in showing how math, science and art are all intertwined.  Even in history, I saw some amazing 3-D models of historic times such as Rosa Parks on the bus.  All complete in proportion to the space they had.  Could it have been done without the digital aspect? Probably. Did that help add another discipline and learning experience   I tend to think so.

Putting together the lamp (photo by Phyllis Wright)

I loved how math created such a beautiful lamp and with out the science there isn't any electricity.  I saw how we could begin to build interesting engineering and design courses that could give students an idea of how to discover and make their own items.  Find an need and create.  I think that is so important as we have this shift in education, students need to learn how to be creative, they have so many tools at there fingertips it is time we allow them to utilize everything to learn about the world around them and invent the future.

Me and My Lamp (photo by Phyllis Wright)