3 lessons on innovating in PBL

This Pennsylvania district built a Fab Lab and has been blown away by its success

When Chevron visited our region and introduced the Fab Lab concept, we knew this was something worth pursuing. In 15 months working with Chevron and the Fab Foundation, we built the physical lab and developed our own Fab Lab purpose and mission—establishing a solid foundation to promote project-based STEM education and career readiness.

2. Establish a culture of collaboration

It’s important to involve diverse stakeholders. Our regional leadership team held planning meetings with students, teachers, parents, administrator,s and custodians—anyone who would be impacted by the new Fab Lab—to talk through and workshop our vision. Not only were these stakeholders integral to the design and logistics of our Fab Lab, but the students especially shaped its identity from the outset.

We kept school staff closely informed and the process flexible.

3. Addressing curriculum and career

We set a culture of responsibility and high expectations for our Fab Lab students. It’s a privilege to be able to learn together and use such amazing tools, and with that perspective shift comes mandatory attendance. Showing up isn’t reserved as a reward for good behavior; it’s part of your job as a Fab Lab student.

Our curriculum enhances technical skills in prototyping and machinery operation, develops essential soft skills like leadership and communication, and provides examples of famous innovators as well as their numerous failures, because failure is an important part of any learning process, especially in STEM. We also look for ways to connect the Lab back to our students’ other classroom lessons, providing teachers with the necessary materials and resources to perform Lab extension activities.

Many of our students remain involved with the Fab Lab through the age of 21. We want each student, when they leave school, to be prepared and competitive for a job in STEM or additional learning. Energy and advanced manufacturing job opportunities are expanding in our corner of Appalachia, and the Fab Lab helps IU1 students develop the skills to be successful in these industries.

The future is theirs

The IU1 Fab Lab was a huge undertaking, and far from a guaranteed success. However, with a committed team and a collaborative, student-centered approach, we designed a best-in-class learning center to get our students excited about STEM lessons and ready for future STEM careers.

It will take a network of support from NGOs, the private sector, and government agencies to ensure STEM programs like the IU1 Fab Lab can grow, expand, and become available to more students, but I can promise you, it’s worth the effort.

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