Digital Fabrication has changed the way the world designs and makes things. It has allowed people with an idea to hold a tangible realization within days or even hours. Pushing DF into K-12 formal education has allowed tactile learners to experience content in new ways, shown students a different way to think about things in three dimensions, and provided users of all ages a new way to demonstrate their learning while mastery 21st-century skills.
I believe, that if you are on the DF in schools bandwagon, you most likely agree with the idea that Digital Fabrication is great. Great for students, great for teachers, all around great. It is also expensive.
The Fab Foundation has a great post on how to set up a Fab Lab, and what you’ll need to do so. They estimate that the cost to start a full lab is $40k-$100k in machines and consumables. That is a LOT of money.
In the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, we are lucky enough to work with The Cleveland Cavaliers and Goodyear. Those two companies have generously given the district $500,000 over five years to promote STEM in CMSD. We are so excited and thankful for this generosity and are looking forward to what our teachers and scholars can do with it!
We could have bought top of the line, no expense spared equipment that could make professional grade impressive things. But we didn’t. We’ve opted for Frugal Fab.
Digital Fabrication in a K-8 setting needs to catch kids attention and get them excited about learning content. It doesn’t need to be the highest quality amazing machine in the world. For that reason, instead of buying one $3,000 3D printer, we bought TEN $300 3D printers. Instead of having one top of the line machine that sits in a lab that students only see on special trips or in pictures, we now have 10 (actually it’s more like 30) affordable 3D printers in CMSD classrooms that students use every day.
For 3D printing in K-8, we use Tinkercad.com, a great free website that is perfect for beginners to start from scratch and maker great things. For a printer, we use Flash Forge Finders. These are fantastic little machines that are durable, reliable, easy to use and cost $299! The software to control the device is free and can be run off any computer. So for $300 and a computer most schools or teachers already have, students can start designing and demonstrating learning today and hold their products in their hands tomorrow.
For vinyl cutting, we use Silhouette Cameos. Not only can these machines cut through vinyl easily to create all of the same things you can do on a large Vinyl Cutter ( big
projects might just take a while), they can also cut through paper, leather, fabric and more! They are versatile and easy to use and the free software the machines use feels like an expensive design software that will teach students some basics of 2D design. A starter kit costs just $199 and comes with everything you need to start making today. Teacher’s days at the die-cut machine are over! This will allow you to digital fabricate labels, signage, stickers, magnets, iron ons for shirts, paper projects, it’s really a wonderful product.
These two machines and some consumable materials for them will cost teachers/schools less than $1000 and get students creating things with digital fabrication on an advanced level in a very short amount of time. While a full Fab Lab also includes laser cutters, CNC routers, electronic equipment and more, for a K-8 classroom, these two little guys are a great place to start.