29 July 2015
Learning by making: digital fabrication and education
An overview about how FabLabs, makerspaces, and companies are helping children get acquainted with tools and potential of digital fabrication and how schools are coping with this new discipline.
Makerspaces and FabLabs are places where you can challenge yourself with the usage of new technologies. Thanks to workshops, hands-on training, and knowledge sharing, machines such as 3D printers and laser cutters have become accessible to anyone.
FabLabs and makerspaces quickly realized the importance of educating children toward new technologies, which will revolutionize our future and create professional careers that don’t exist yet.
Lately, 3D printing companies have also started creating educational programs based on hands-on training and creative sessions that help children quickly learn about digital fabrication tools in a fun way.
This requires the application of an educational method that lies behind the so-called Constructionist theory.
Seymour Papert’s Constructivist theory
Constructionism is an educational theory conceived by Seymour Papert in the 1960s and has its roots in the Jean Piaget’s Constructivist theory, which states that people construct their understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things.
Papert, mathematician, educator and computer scientist, asserts that “knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed in the mind of the learner. Learners don’t get ideas; they create ideas.”
Papert proposes the educational method of ‘learning-by-making’ in which students build up their knowledge by using tools and making things. He applies this method particularly to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, but it can also be used for other subjects as well as for online learning.
At the end of the 20th century, Papert created the Constructionist Learning Laboratory (CLL) that offered educational programs especially for at-risk adolescents. For the Laboratory, he proposes 8 main ideas:
1) Learning by doing
2) Technology as building material
3) Big idea is hard fun
4) Learning to learn
5) Taking time – the proper time for the job
6) You can’t get it right without getting it wrong
7) Do not unto ourselves what we do unto our students
8) We are entering a digital world where knowing about technologies is as important as reading and writing.
Needless to say, these 8 ideas on which the CLL is based resemble principles and concepts that lie behind makerspaces and FabLabs, and their educational programs.
FabLabs and companies supporting education
In the Netherlands, KaasFabriek and FryskLab are two examples of FabLab that aim to get young people closer to digital fabrication. Kaasfabriek is a non-profit organization that relies on funding to reach schools in order to get children and adolescents enthusiastic about new technologies.
Its cofounder, André van Rijswijk, stated:
“It is important to get children enthusiastic about science and technology because these are the people we need now but also in the future. Children should be involved in science projects from primary school in order to engage them from a young age. This way, they might choose to study science and technology in the future.”
FryskLab, a mobile FabLab founded by a library, aims to help young people get acquainted with digital fabrication and acquire knowledge for their professional future. It set up educational programs with lessons and workshops for young people to work in specific areas that are relevant to Friesland, the region in which the Lab is based.
Similar projects are happening everywhere. But what about the schools?
Many schools are currently developing educational programs that explore the principles of digital manufacturing. These are possible also thanks to 3D printer manufacturers that have created tailored solutions for schools and children.
3D printer manufacturer Leapfrog created an ‘Educational Package’ that includes the Creatr Dual Extruder 3D printer, a license for the Simplify 3D software, 30 USB sticks, 8 rolls of PLA filament, 8 rolls of ABS filament, text books and training for the educators.
Leapfrog’s lesson plans are divided into two categories depending on the age of the students: there is a book that contains 14 lessons aimed at children between 10 and 12, and a book for students between 13 and 18 with three more advanced lessons/projects on 3D printing.
IonCore has started an initiative in early 2014 aiming to generate enough donations to be able to support 3D printing education programs for schools, universities and other institutes based in the UK.
As soon as the fund-raising goal is met, IonCore delivers a Zinter Pro printer along with its accompanying education package.
Create Education is a 3D printing awareness portal and online community of enthusiasts. Collaborating with Ultimaker, Europe’s leading 3D printer manufacturer, the portal has started the CREATE education project aimed initially at British and Irish schools.
The program’s goal is to help educators prepare their students for professions that do not even exist at the moment.
In summary, there is a compelling urgency to build our future. And our future is represented by children. We need to make sure to prepare them for the new and upcoming challenges by guiding them toward the discovery and usage of technological innovations and by giving them the right tools to build their own future.
 Michael Orey – “Constructionism: What is it?.” Introduction to Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. – Boundless, 27 June 2015 – CC-BY-SA 4.0
 Sandra Schön, Martin Ebner, Swapna Kumar – The Maker Movement. Implications of new digital gadgets, fabrication tools and spaces for creative learning and teaching, 2014 – CC-BY 3.0