Getting "Messy" with Fab@School at the ED Games Expo

In a room filled with amazing virtual reality stations, impressive mobile apps, and science simulations, we were the “messy table.”

On Monday, Jan. 8, FableVision Learning joined hundreds of game developers at 5th annual ED Games Expo hosted by the U.S. Department of Education at the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC. The expo was a chance to showcase learning games developed through The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to students from the DC area.

We discovered that in this digital age, youngsters were drawn the tangible. Our table was the busiest of all! Why?  We were there to demo Fab@School Maker Studio, an online tool where students design with 2D shapes to create nets that when fabricated using a digital cutter become 3D objects.

The perk - it is all done with paper.

I was inundated with students all lining up to answer one simple question: “What do you want to make”?  Everytime the answer was different.

  • “What do you mean… make?”
  • “A house.”
  • “A car.”
  • “A Mickey Mouse face that has stars instead of circles for ears”
  • “What can I make?”
  • “I want what she made, only different.”

The challenge was on and it was only 10 a.m.

Students picked a piece of colored cardstock, mounted it on a sticky mat, and patiently waited for their turn.

A fourth-grade girl was excited to create a dodecahedron - she just loves shapes. But wanted two sides to have a cut-out of a star. This was simple - by dragging a star from the shapes pallet onto her design she was able to see her idea come to fruition digitally and after 50 seconds though the digital cutter - she was folding her geometric shape.  

One girl wasn’t impressed with the sunglasses she was wearing and wanted to create her own. As a group of young engineers we examined what shapes were used in the construction of the glasses.

“Maybe two circles with two more circles in the middle to see,” one student suggested.

“Now we need a rectangle to make them connected,” another added.

At the end of the design phase, we had a pretty nifty pair of sunglasses with very long arms. Back in Fab@School, she used the ruler tool to accurately create the perfect pair of sunglasses.

There were oohs and aahs from all folks of ages when the students snapped pulled together six squares and watched as the program’s 3D viewer showed how the shape would fold. One exhibitor remarked that Fab@School was unique because you create 2D nets to create 3D objects instead of building in a 3D environment and having the program flatten it.    

Toward the end of the afternoon, teachers were giving the five-minute-until-the-bus-leaves warning to students that had been there for a good part of the day - designing, creating, and getting messy.

We left tired but excited to know we had inspired a few more future engineers.