FabLabSD programs at LJCD featured in Torrey Times

Learning Science, Math By Doing

MIDDLE SCHOOL — At the height of last summer’s heat wave, amid those long, hot days that can test the patience of a Middle School student on break, more than 70 students sat quietly, sometimes for more than six hours in a day.
Guided by an experienced faculty mentor and after group interactions and discussions, the students designed and programmed their microprocessor boards to accomplish the tasks they creatively dreamed up. In short order, these students had become fledgling members of something being called “the Maker Movement.’’ Soon they were in on-line connection to other “makers,’’ getting tips and guidance, giving some too. They were part of Summer STE(+a)M at Country Day, a collaboration with UCSD, and before the three-week course was out, they were exposed to advanced math, engineering and electronics concepts in a project-based effort that took science out of the classroom and into the real world.

Katie Rast, FabLabSD DirectorHeading Summer STE(+a)M was Katie Rast (pictured right), a Goddard and MIT-trained teacher, who has become a leading proponent in San Diego of using this project-based “maker” approach to do for education what it has begun to do for American manufacturing. Rast, who heads FabLab San Diego, part of an internationally connected network of similar labs, has joined Country Day part-time for the 2012-13 school year and will be working with Middle School managers to develop an after-school STE(+a)M program while continuing to plan for an even more robust “Summer STE(+a)M” program in July.

“Our approach is not to take just the kids who are already sold on science and math, but to take all kids, engage them in a project and let them develop the excitement and appreciation for math and science by doing,’’ Rast said. “The advanced kids love this because they can move at their own pace and develop more sophisticated projects. But the bottom line is, they are all developing their digital credentials starting in Middle School.’’
To understand the concept of “digital credentials’’ it is good to understand a little about the “Maker” movement and the quiet revolution that is blurring the lines between science, math, design and manufacturing both in academic and employment settings. In fact it is blurring the line between school and work in some ways too.

As Wired Magazine explained, the “Maker” movement, in a nutshell, refers to a new category of builders who are using open-source methods and the latest technology to bring manufacturing out of its traditional factory context, and into the realm of the personal desktop computer. The ability to design a product, use new, inexpensive 3-D printers and deliver a prototype in days or weeks has put a premium on learning not just the concepts but also to apply mathematics, engineering and electronics.
The cost of the materials and processes has declined rapidly, making it possible to teach by “doing,’’ Rast says. “It could be seen as if we’re almost going back to the days of having shop classes in our schools. Kids can really learn digital skills the way we used to teach woodworking and auto mechanics. You know, we now realize those kids in Wood Shop class were, in fact, learning geometry, but they were learning it by using it.’’

Rast, who remains a consultant with UCSD Extension while working with Country Day, is helping enrich the academic environments of both institutions. She will work with Brian Murphy, Director of the Middle School, on developing an after-school program that could give Middle School families a way of exposing their children to this blended “Maker Movement” project-based learning. The after-school program could lead into the “Summer STE(+a)M” classes as well, Rast said.
In the next two weeks, Rast will be conducting an on-line survey of Middle School parents to gauge interest and to help shape both the after-school program and the “Summer STE(+a)M” offerings to come.
Here are several links to background stories explaining the “Maker Movement:”

Source: Torrey Times, La Jolla Country Day School News