Learning takes on new shapes as Mobile Maker Lab visits Edgewood Highland

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Students at Edgewood Highland School in Cranston got a welcome break in the action on Nov. 26, as the Mobile Maker Lab paid a visit to bring some pre-Thanksgiving fun with 3-D printing and embroidery.

Fifth-grade teacher Lori Califano first heard of the concept during a project-based learning workshop at the Highlander Institute. The lab is free and state funded, and according to its website provides “a hands-on, mobile, learning platform exposing students to technologies associated with 21st century manufacturing,” with a focus on activities that “align with a variety of career opportunities.”

“The kids are loving it. They just think it’s great. They just come outside and they say, ‘Oh, this is so much fun!’ They’re really enjoying it and they’re proud of what they made,” Califano said while walking out to the lab trailer. “I’m hoping this afternoon we can sort of write about what we were doing and specifically what was the technology that they learned and hopefully they can come back, too. We’re looking to have them come back.”

Driver and technician Tim Blaney and curriculum coordinator Sarah Logler were among those leading the tutorials as waves of students entered the small but bustling space. Blaney said using the technology in the lab isn’t too complicated, noting that students who were previously unfamiliar were operating on their own behind him during the interview.

“We use a lot of consumer-grade equipment to teach CNC [computer numeric controlled] technology, so it’s not as threatening as people,” Blaney said, explaining that CNC means a computer uses numbers to control its tools. “A lot of people think ‘Oh, 3-D printers and CNC machines, how do I do that?’ But we teach it in a way that is simple just like a regular paper printer. So if you use a paper printer, you can use any machine in this lab.”

Blaney said the students were working with a program called Tinkercad, which allows them to put their names into shapes before exporting them on to an SD card. The design is them exported to the slicer program, where Blaney would put the card and let the 3-D printers work their magic.

“That slicer program will take your model and literally slice it into little wafer-thin slices, and then it stacks them on top of each other again,” Blaney said. “So it really only does a 2-D print with another 2-D print on top of it, and another 2-D print on top of that until it simulates a 3-D project.”

He said the reviews from students had been excellent, adding they always want the lab to come back. He said the hands-on approach helps the kids learn in new ways.

“We’ve had kids not do well in a classroom environment come out here and completely excel in this environment,” Blaney said. “Different types of learning. People learn in different ways. I was never good at sitting down, reading history and memorizing dates, but I can come in here and I’m really good with Cad, I can do some really cool things.

“They love it … One, it gets them out of the classroom for a little bit, [and] two, it’s creative.”

Logler, who was working with students on embroidery, said her machines are also “fairly easy to use.” She guided students on how to digitize their designs, as they produced everything from their name to the Providence Bruins logo stitched to cloth.

“They love it,” Logler said. “They make custom pieces with their names, that’s the thing everybody wants. If you can’t have a T-shirt, everybody wants something with your name on it.”

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