Fab lab is the educational outreach component for the Center for Bits & Atoms (CBA) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a technology platform for learning and innovation: a place to play, to create, to learn, to invent, to mentor. To be a fab lab means connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, makers and innovators, a knowledge-sharing network that spans 13 countries and 24 time zones. Fab lab is an abbreviation for “fabrication laboratory.” It is comprised of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs written by researchers at the Center for Bits & Atoms. Currently fab labs include a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, a large wood router for building furniture and housing, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping.
Originally designed for communities as prototyping platforms to stimulate local entrepreneurship, fab labs are increasingly being adopted by schools as platforms for project-based, hands-on STEM education. Users learn by designing and creating objects of personal interest or import. Empowered by the experience of making something themselves, they both learn and mentor each other, gaining deep knowledge about the machines, the materials, the design process, and the engineering that goes into inventions and innovation. In school settings, rather than relying on a fixed curriculum, learning happens in an authentic, engaging, personal context, one in which students go through a cycle of imagination, design, prototyping, reflection, and iteration (ref. Resnick) as they find solutions to challenges or bring their ideas to life. This deep, useable, transferable knowledge is difficult to achieve in many educational settings. The hands-on, project-based learning environment inspires students to reach for, to demand, deeper knowledge in science, engineering, mathematics and technology; that is,just-in-time learning for authentic, contextual application. Fab labs foster the development of 21st century skills, through international collaborations, internet-based communication, documentation and portfolio building, as well as (…) Fab labs offer STEM literacy. They provide teachers with an environment that catalyzes and amplifies their effectiveness.