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JULY 2012

Marymount Students on the Cutting Edge of STEM

Marymount School of New York, an independent Catholic girls’ school for students in nursery through grade 12, is celebrating the first birthday of its Fab Lab. The creation and use of the Fab Lab (short for fabrication laboratory) represents the School’s willingness to embrace the tenets of 21st-Century teaching and learning.

The genesis of the Fab Lab at Marymount grew out of bold steps the school took to provide experiential STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for its students throughout primary and secondary school. Headmistress Concepcion R. Alvar said, “Our commitment to STEM education helps address the alarming data regarding the underrepresentation of women in professional STEM fields. We aim to cultivate a problem solving, collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship mindset — we want our students to be doers and makers.”

Under the guidance of Mr. Jaymes Dec, Marymount’s Fab Lab Administrator, students discover 2D and 3D computer-aided design, digital prototyping and fabrication techniques, computer programming and mechanical and electrical engineering.

The concept of a Fab Lab was born at MIT, the brainchild of Professor Neil Gershenfeld. His goal was to create a set of machines, and the software necessary to communicate those designs to the machines. Anyone is able to create products of their own design using precision tools and manufacturing processes.

Since Marymount’s Fab Lab opened at the start of the 2011-2012 school year, students have been using its tools to prototype electronic circuits and connect them to the Arduino Microcontroller, connecting digital inputs and outputs to the Arduino and writing programs to allow for simple human-computer interactions. Students have also learned to design and build their own circuit boards. Middle school students have programmed simple animations, video games and interactive art. In addition, students have translated their two-dimensional designs to three-dimensional designs and posted those designs to TinkerCAD.com, where they caught the attention of other designers including the CEO of TinkerCAD.

“The Fab Lab opens up infinite possibilities for learning and exploring,” Dec said. “Students are encouraged to bolster their visual-spatial modalities and think about things in new ways. It is an extraordinary resource.” Marymount alumna Carla Diana, herself an industrial and interaction designer, remarked of the Fab Lab, “The Fab Lab gives students opportunities to work with their hands and build things, while also giving them a contemporary awareness of new technologies and current prototyping techniques.”

The Fab Lab has complemented Marymount’s existing academic program by providing a space for students to explore the design process of problem solving, including the steps of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. Learning is self-directed as students are encouraged to identify challenges and then take steps to create solutions to those challenges. Headmistress Alvar remarked, “When teaching and learning follows this model, students develop new habits of mind as well as the creative confidence to tackle seemingly intractable problems.” In so many ways, the Fab Lab is preparing its students for their future. #

For more information about Marymount’s Fab Lab, contact Kimberly Field-Marvin, Director of Communications, 212-744-4486, ext. 8183.

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