Students at Pfaff Elementary School have been benefiting this week from the cutting-edge technology of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Fab Lab, designed to inspire and encourage students to pursue careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) fields.
Pfaff’s Fab Lab work this week (Nov. 8–12), which includes students in grades 2 through 5, is linked to its curriculum, and helps prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce, which will require them to be skilled in computer science and digital fabrication. Students in fifth grade, for example, are each building a home on the Moon that will include items needed to live in space. Once they sketch a design of their Moon habitat, they will design it in Tinkercad, a 3D printer. Younger students have been studying oceans and are sketching symbols that represent the ocean to include on a bookmark they’ll create with a laser engraver.
“The exposure to these technologies really prepares them for how significant the digital fabrication labs are in our industries and may be used in a future career,” said Adrienne Romano, coordinator of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Fab Lab program. “Understanding the equipment better is a definite plus. We need more students well-rounded in their knowledge of these technologies.”
The lab is a transit van that transports several carts full of equipment such as 3D printers, a laser engraver, CNC router, vinyl cutter, and a variety of robotics equipment. It also has laptop computers with specialized software programs to control and interact with the equipment.
The equipment is very expensive. Through PAsmart Grants, the BCIU received $150,000 for the Fab Lab, to expand teacher professional development, and expand the reach of the Fab Lab to county public libraries and school districts with the greatest populations of homeless students and low-income families.
There’s great demand for the unit, and its annual one-week residencies at schools fills up in approximately 36 hours once it’s posted, Ms. Romano said. Fortunately for Pfaff, Peach Draper, the school’s Math and Science instructional partner makes it a point to regularly check for the posting.
“The experience is unique for kids,” she said. “It brings together things we talk about that are tangible and they can build and create right here in this room. It sparks an interest in job ideas and gets them thinking.”
QCSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Hoffman was thankful to Mrs. Draper for “seeking this opportunity for our students. It’s new and exciting for them. It’s also cooperative learning as they collaborate with other students and teachers in the classroom.”
In 2019, before the pandemic, Mrs. Draper was able to get the Fab Lab out to Pfaff for the first time. Last month, the Fab Lab visited Richland Elementary School.
“This takes them to the next level, which is phenomenal,” Richland social studies teacher Stephanie Traumuller said of the Fab Lab. “It’s fabulous that the IU makes this available. Kids love engaging with new technology. I’ll be doing something and they’ll tell me, ‘No, it goes like this.’ They show me! They pick it up so fast. Without the IU we wouldn’t be able to do it.”