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Re-creating the role of labs in public schools to inspire innovation

In case you missed it, the San Jose Mercury News had an interesting article over the weekend about a recently opened fabrication lab designed especially for middle- and high-school students at Castilleja School in Palo Alto. Known as the Bourn Lab, the facility is part of the FabLab@School program, which was created by Paulo Blikstein, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford.

Blikstein developed the FabLab@School program to re-create the role of labs in schools, promote exploration in education and inspire innovation. The Bourn Lab offers students access to 3-D printers, a 3-D scanner, a laser-cut printer and other equipment, which they have used in various projects such as constructing cancer diagnostics prototypes.

As the Mercury News story explains, Blikstein is collaborating with teachers at Castilleja and East Palo Alto Academy to study the effectiveness of the fab lab learning model:

Fifteen out of the 60 teachers at Castilleja -- representing every department -- have been through a lab training headed by Blikstein, and more teachers will take part. In addition to training and regularly meeting with the teachers, Blikstein is heading a team of about 20 people at Stanford to study how well the FabLab@School concept works. "Research is the best way to ensure it's going to continue," he said.


As part of its partnership with Blikstein, Castilleja also is helping with the cost of another school fab lab, at East Palo Alto Academy, which will open later this year. Blikstein said he's currently talking with teachers at both schools -- he has worked with teachers at East Palo Alto Academy for a while, and some of the school's students have been using his Stanford fab lab regularly -- and envisions having students from the school in East Palo Alto do joint projects with Castilleja students.

"We want to democratize by expanding to public schools," Blikstein said. "Society pays attention to high-tech tools. Putting them in the hands of kids" who otherwise might not be exposed to them, he said, "that's very valuable."

For more on this work, Blikstein discusses in the above talk (from TEDxManhattanBeach) the FabLab@School effort and the use of technology to transform the learning of science, engineering and mathematics.

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