Fab Lab model intrigues school district

Tour of White Bear Lake facility considered worth replicating

by Casey Mahon
Special to the Star News
Wanting to know more about how technology can be integrated into the curriculum, four members of the Elk River Area School Board toured the Century College Fab Lab in White Bear Lake on Aug. 4.

School board directors Sue Farber, Holly Thompson, Shane Steinbrecher and Jolene Jorgensen joined Superintendent Mark Bezek, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr and three district staff members when they went to the fabrication lab to learn first-hand how this revolutionary laboratory is changing manufacturing, and how it can be integrated and complement existing and new curriculum.

According to Century College Digital Fabrication Laboratory Director Dr. Scott Simenson, “Fab Lab is a high-tech ‘tinkers’ workshop for inventors and people who have a need to design, prototype and build things.”

Simenson says through his Fab Lab, individuals who can envision an idea have access to a variety of technologies which allow them to produce an end product through the use of computer-aided design and desktop manufacturing technologies.

One component of the Fab Lab that is making international news is a 3D powder-based rapid prototyping machine printer that can virtually replicate anything.

Simenson showed the directors and staff a variety of class-made items, including a complete paper-based engine block, produced entirely from the 3D powder-based printer.  Simenson says the printer can fully replicate small electronic circuits to full-sized boats and even modular cabins.

Among the presentations the local group received was from Mahtomedi School District educators who are implementing a Fab Lab in one of their schools.

Hennen-Burr, who spearheaded the tour, said the Fab Lab is about using 21st century learning skills.

“It’s an actual set of tools that allows students to put their learning into real-life application,” she said.

Hennen-Burr added that the lab is also about “creativity, ingenuity, problem-solving and taking things that we can’t even see yet and being able to create them.”

She said she envisions a day when the district will have the funding to create a Fab Lab, which could be used to complement, among others, the science, technology, engineering and math curriculums.

“So many in our community say we have to give our students real-life learning, and this is just one incredible way,” said Hennen-Burr.