(Re)Visiting Digital Fabrication Labs in Middle and Upper Schools

Alberta shopbot charlotte

Alberta shows off the sign she made on a ShopBot.

May and early June was the time to visit a number of digital fabrication labs in middle schools, high schools, and community colleges around the US. Some labs are fine tuning their plans after being in existence for a year or more, while some are just starting their journey.


Southwestern Pennsylvania is coal country, with all of the economic consequences of a shifting way of life. It’s also beautiful there: small towns nestled into valleys connected by scenic mountain roads. The Chevron Lab at Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1) near California, Pennsylvania, has a thriving program. Follow them via Twitter (@IU1FabLab) to see how they are using the ShopBot CNC routers, laser cutters, 3D printers, and electronics to bring art projects and technology to students from kindergarten through high school. In one of his recent tweets, Brandon Prentice, guru of their mobile lab, showed a living wall created by art students with the ShopBot Buddy® that is a part of the mobile lab. The stationary lab at Colonial Middle School also has evening classes and workshops for teachers, students, and community members to learn about digital fabrication and making.

Assembling a living wall.

Parts machined on a ShopBot Buddy.

IU1 recently added three Handibot® Smart Power Tools (with rotary indexers) to their suite of digital fabrication tools. One will reside in the stationary lab, one will ride in the mobile lab, and one will be available at a tool lending library. The Handibot in the stationary lab will be drawn into service for creating circuit boards, as well as being available for machining in 3D for molding and casting projects. Brandon really likes the Handibot app, Smooth Sketch, for working with the very young students (K-2).


Charlotte Mecklenburg School System added digital fabrication to their curriculum in the 2016 – 2017 school year. Two high schools have ShopBots: Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, has a 3D lab (CNC routers, laser cutter, 3D printer, etc.) as well as a home construction program and an automotive program. Teachers and administrators from the 3D lab and the home construction program received a 1-day refresher course on the ShopBot in May.

Watching the ShopBot in action.

Olympic High School in Charlotte also has a full sized ShopBot for use in their School of Technology Entrepreneurship & Advanced Manufacturing and with Project Lead The Way. Matt Wykoff, the PLTW teacher at Olympic, says his CIM (Computer-Integrated Manufacturing) students have embraced the ShopBot. Matt is putting the ShopBot to good use for himself as well, he is making a new home entertainment system.

A few of the student projects from Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC.



The installation of the digital fabrication lab at Brady Middle School in Pikesville, OH (near Cleveland) was completed at the end of May. After the ShopBot PRSalpha 4 x 8 for big projects, and a ShopBot Desktop for circuit boards and smaller projects were installed, Christie Kohn and Jake Miller, interim managers of the lab, invited 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers for a tour and “make and take.” The digital fabrication lab is not just for STEM education: Language arts teachers began to think of how they can use the ShopBot for “printing” their students’ favorite quotes, and social studies teachers thought of making as a way of bringing cultural diversity and customs into the classroom. TIES will return to Brady for professional development when the new school year starts. News update: Brady has now ordered a Handibot to join their suite of digital fabrication tools.

Chris Carter of TIES demos the ShopBot Desktop to one group of teachers, while another group works with the 3D printer and laser cutter in the digital fabrication lab.


Principal of Brady Middle School watching ShopBot cut out his name plate. Note the material is pre-painted and pre-cut to size for each name plate.


Christie tightening bolts on X motor after reseating the pinion gear in the rack. Part of the training during installation includes how to tune up the ShopBot.



The Chevron Fab Lab NOLA at Delgado Community College in New Orleans is reaching out to the community to share its resources. Fab Lab manager Sam Provenza and Sallye Coyle hosted a diverse group of teachers and community leaders from Delgado Community College, local public and private schools, and extracurricular programs that are a part of Bricolage Academy and the Youth Empowerment Project. The two day FFI include time on the ShopBot, laser cutter, and vinyl cutter, as well as how to integrate digital fabrication into curricula, from primary school to high school programs such as PLTW.

Sam introduces the FabLab concept to the attendees.


Same design file, three different digital fabrication tools: ShopBot CNC router, laser cutter, and vinyl cutter.

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