FABSpotlight: Flurry of Creativity Supports STEAM Learning


The following blog post is by Peggy Healy Stearns, Lead Software Designer, Fab@School Maker Studio.

At the Lighthouse ArtCenter Full STEAM Ahead Summer Art Camp in Tequesta, Florida, student-centered learning unleashed a flurry of creativity.

Given an open-ended challenge to create something for one of the camp’s collaborative displays, kids ages 5-12 designed and fabricated 2D and 3D objects from paper and cardstock to populate real and imaginary habitats, communities, and worlds. City and countryside, mountains and jungle, oceans, exotic destinations, outer space, and scenes from books and movies came to life in a burst of color.

The hub of digital design was a computer lab funded by an S. Kent Rockwell Foundation grant. This maker space featured 17 computer stations, two Silhouette digital cutters, and Fab@School Maker Studio, the onramp digital design and fabrication software developed under the auspices of the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity with funding from the US DOE SBIR, Cisco Foundation, and the Alcoa and Noyce Foundations.

Student “worlds” were aligned with weekly themes. For Oceanic Exploration, kids created coral reefs, fish, dolphins, whales, boats, submarines, scuba divers – anything imaginable under the sea. During Safari week, they created jungles and savanna, the Tree of Life, and scenes and animals from the Lion King. For the Vacation theme, kids designed reproductions of landmarks from the Statue of Liberty to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Washington Monument to the Roman Coliseum, ancient cathedrals to modern skyscrapers.

Other weeks, students created a prehistoric landscape populated with dinosaurs and Harry Potter’s world with Hogwarts School, ghouls and all. Trains, planes, automobiles and cable cars connected worlds.

Multiple aspects of STEAM came together in this intrinsically engaging project. Students researched animals and habitats, landscape and infrastructure, cities around the world, and space travel. They engineered airplanes and buildings and bridges. They used math to build to scale. Even 6-year-olds mastered Fab@School Maker Studio’s digital design tools, drawing freehand, welding, cutting holes, and morphing objects with edit points.

Students were inspired and guided by the camp instructor, Fernando Porras, himself an internationally acclaimed artist. The results were magical and alluring with kids inspiring their classmates and building on each other’s designs. The level of collaboration, communication, and creativity exceeded expectations.

This project demonstrated the value of informal learning opportunities where teachers and students have greater flexibility. Although most children will return to a more structured classroom, experiences like these can bolster their interest in traditional academic subjects, help them make connections, and impact their STEM self-concept.

This makerspace was part of a unique STEAM experience, which featured an exhibit of 100 original paintings and books from bestselling and Caldecott Award winning children’s authors and illustrators along with interactive exhibits and traditional studio arts, where kids created sculptures and paintings aligned with weekly themes.  During nine one-week camps, kids rotated through four sessions per day, one of which was devoted to digital design and fabrication. To support economic and ethnic diversity, the Lighthouse ArtCenter awarded scholarships to nearly one third of the students.

The entire interactive gallery and maker space experience was the brainchild of curator Janeen Mason, herself an award-winning children’s author and illustrator.

Is your classroom a FabClassroom? We would love to highlight your school! To be featured in an upcoming post, send an email to andrea@reynoldstlc.org. You can also tweet your photos with the hashtag #FabMakerStudio! For more posts featuring Fab@School Maker Studio, click here.