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Extending Learning:

The Benefits and Drawbacks of High School-FabLab Connections


The Transformative Learning and Technologies Lab (TLTL) at Stanford hosts 7th and 8th graders from a local middle school physics class twice a week. During the fall quarter of 2014, the students worked on a creative project-based activity at the TLTL called “omni-animal” to learn about the process of design, practice using CorelDraw software, and try laser cutting. In this activity, students are given a base that they can modify, and are able to make their own pieces to connect to the base in order to build a creature of their choosing (past projects have ranged from winged dragons to Hello Kitty characters). Graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and staff at the TLTL design hands-on workshops, like the “omni-animal” module, for students to participate in at Stanford’s FabLab. They study what students learn through these experiences using field observations as well as pre- and post-tests on basic engineering concepts. 




Much of the research done by the TLTL has been focused on the work that happens in the FabLab on the Stanford campus. My project partner and I were interested in understanding the impact it might have on students beyond the confines of the physical lab space. In particular, we were interested in what kinds of life skills (leadership, teamwork, revision, etc.) students were developing and what kinds of opportunities they benefitted from by attending class at the FabLab. 


Several findings came out of this qualitative research study. Importantly, we found that students were developing important life skills. In particular, we found that this less formal classroom environment allowed students to act as leaders, even students who held contradictory roles in the school environment. We also found that students were willing to persevere in the face of challenges. Even when students were visibly frustrated, they continued to work on their projects because they felt personally connected and motivated to continue. Our findings from this study have helped me to better understand what makes a successful learning environment. The question I bring forward with me is how to give all students that experience, not just those who have the opportunity to visit a university campus twice a week.


Below, you can read the full study.

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