A once quiet corner of the Watertown High School Library is now filled with enthusiastic students making their visions come to life in the school’s new Fab Lab.
The library staff removed 12 large bookcases with out-of-date books on them and the area now has two 3-D printers, a vinyl cutter and a laser cutter, with a computer station to send their designs to the machines. In addition there is a wood router in the Career and Technical Education room and some old school machines in the library – two sewing machines.
While the books are gone, the Fab Lab is another way for students to approach things, said WHS Library Media Specialist Erin Piazza.
“The library is a place students use to find information, prepare projects or reflect what they learn,” Piazza said. “This is a different way for students to reflect what they are learning.”
Last week, one student worked with Beth Lloyd, the school’s Innovation Specialist, to create a wooden box on the laser cutter as a thank you gift for his teacher, while another one used the vinyl cutter to make a name plate for her egg drop project.
Senior Cris Patvakanian used the laser cutter to cut out the sides of the box, and etched on a message.
“It is for Mr. (Michael) Spillane, my math teacher,” Patvakanian said.
Toni Carlson, K-12 Educational Technology and Library Coordinator, said the Wayshak Fab Lab is used by teachers for specific lessons in class, by students working on a project and others just experimenting.
Classes that have already used the Fab Lab include two English classes, a physics class, two art classes, an English Language Learners class, a history class and a music class, said Carlson. Clubs have also been to the lab.
Students can learn how to use the Fab Lab from Lloyd or Piazza, or sometimes the students delve into things themselves.
“They end up teaching us aspects of the machines we didn’t know about,” Piazza said. “Students have a lot of interests. They use programs, mostly free web-based programs or apps they download on their phones.”
Some students are interested in design, others are interested in the the machines themselves and how they work, Piazza said.
Carlson said she hopes the skills learned by students in the Fab Lab will help them in their work life.
“I have gone to so many conferences where people from industry spoke. Every place is looking for innovation,” Carlson said. “My daughter works for a tech company and part of her yearly evaluation is what innovative things did you do this year – what did you do to save us time and save us money.”
Lloyd, who began working in the Fab Lab after many years as an occupational therapist, said students approach things differently that in the past.
“The old school method was measure twice, cut once,” Lloyd said. “Not sometimes it is measure twice, cut twice. Fail and make changes if you need to.”
The high-tech equipment was paid for from a bequeathment to the high school from the Wayshak family.
“(Principal) Shirley (Lundberg) talked to me about doing something in the library,” Carlson said.
When looking to create a maker space for the high school, looked at other schools for inspiration. They decided to go with the Fab Lab – a network of maker spaces using specific kinds of machines so members can share designs.
“It makes the most sense. They are located around the world,” Carlson said. “There are between 560 and 580 right now.”
The Fab Lab has attracted the interest of other schools, and recently officials from Holliston and Maynard came in to see how Watertown students are using the new equipment.
Having seen some of the Fab Lab’s capabilities, next semester Lloyd and Piazza will be teaching a class using the equipment called Design Thinking.