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A Successful Fab Lab: From Building to Maintenance

Fab Lab - Design & Planning

Creating a fab lab in your school is a very exciting prospect. It’s imperative to take a holistic approach and create a thorough plan from the very start. Your school may have already purchased 3D printers and/or other ‘maker’ equipment which is under-utilized or not used at all, and It can be easy to get carried away with purchasing cool tools for a fab lab. By setting goals before setting up your fab lab you can ensure that all the materials and equipment you purchase are used to their maximum potential. Once you know what you are aiming for you can identify the key elements that will enable you to achieve those goals, including the technical and physical details of your space. Once you have those key components nailed down, you can start delving into the nitty gritty of furniture, layout, and equipment.

Best Practices for a Successful Fab Lab

1. Create a Goal-Oriented Space for Your Fab Lab

Consider all of the options before narrowing down the main objectives of your space, so you know what specific goals you are aiming to accomplish. A great way to narrow down your goals is by appointing an in-house team of teachers to come up with a list of objectives for the space. Since teachers are the ones who will ultimately be guiding the students as they use the space, they are the primary candidates to choose what its main purposes are. Goals for the space might include maximizing student exposure to STEM, helping students with career opportunities, teaching collaborative skills through project based learning, creating a center for extracurricular STEM programs, and much more.

2. Create the Educational Foundations for Fab Lab Success

First of all, you need to ensure that you have a curriculum with a clear set of goals and specific lessons which will take place in the fab lab. You can purchase a Tech Ed curriculum for the fab lab which complies with standards including ISTE, Common Core, and/or NGSS. If you also want to integrate core subjects such as math, history, and language arts, you can find curriculum modules for those as well. This will help expand the educational possibilities for your fab lab and provide more opportunities for developing project-based learning skills and the use of technology.

Once you have developed a curriculum, teacher training is the next step. The better prepared your educators are to use the fab lab, the more your students will get out of their learning in this space. Professional days, or a continuing ed course dedicated to optimal fab lab use, and getting to know all of the equipment will make a big difference in empowering teachers to use this space to its fullest potential. Before an educator can bring a class into the room they should be required to undergo training to ensure that valuable furniture, tools, and equipment are utilized safely, appropriately and under proper supervision.

You will also need a point person, the resident fab lab expert, who will be able to oversee the space, teacher training, and troubleshooting challenges that arise. Choose a teacher who is skilled and interested in technology, and hire an outside fab lab specialist to train them. As a result of the investment put into this space and everything inside of it, you may even require your fab lab director to unlock and lock up the space every day to ensure that everything is in its proper place and in working order. The director will also be in charge of ongoing tech support and helping develop any new projects that are designated for this space.

3. Determine the Technical Details of Your Fab Lab

Make sure that the infrastructure and physical space are appropriate for their designated use. There should be proper electrical wiring and IT-outfitting to support the tools that will be used in the space. The layout of the room should be conducive to all of the furniture that needs to fit in there, with plenty of space for groups of students and individuals to work comfortably. Ideally this would mean choosing all of your fab lab furniture based on space, layout, and use. Consulting a layout and furniture expert can make a big difference in how your space will function, and how well everything will fit.

Budgeting is key when deciding what will work for your space. The sooner you have an idea of just how much you have to work with, the easier it will be to plan. There may be some things you already have that you can rework to function in the space. Another great opportunity related to budgeting, is developing a school-industry partnership. This will help give your students a taste of the real-world aspect of their learning in the fab lab, and often means gaining valuable input from people who are working in the field. Industry partnerships can also be an excellent way to get some of the tools and equipment you need with a discount or without having to spend any money. Many companies replace their equipment on a regular basis and will be more than happy to donate it to such a worthy cause (and the positive publicity won’t hurt either).

Use interior design to make your space a real showpiece. This space shouldn’t just be full of modern tools and technology, it should also have a decidedly contemporary aesthetic. The student work itself can be the main decor. An eye-catching showcase with some of your best projects will show everyone just how important the fab lab is, and encourage students to take pride in their work.

For best results and a smooth implementation process, make sure that you have clear plans in place for your fab lab. Ensure that everyone from the fab lab director, to the faculty, to the students, knows how to use tools properly before they undertake a project, and who to turn to when ideas and questions arise. With the proper preparations and training, you fab lab will quickly become your school’s center of innovation.

Hertz Furniture is partnering with industry leader Palmer Hamilton to provide a complete turnkey solution for a project-based fab lab, including consultations with fab lab experts, standards-based curriculum and modules for your entire school, teacher training, single-source support, financing options, equipment, furniture, interior design, and more.

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