New Albany News

District officials have big plans for fabrication lab

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The future is coming to New Albany-Plain Local Schools when the MIT fabrication laboratory, or "fab lab," opens at the high school this fall between the Jefferson Room and the natatorium.

District spokesman Patrick Gallaway said students who train in the lab can earn certifications that enable to enter the workforce immediately.

The lab is expected to prepare students for a career path and give them stronger connections with organizations partnering with the district on the project, including Battelle for Kids, Columbus State Community College and local manufacturers that use similar equipment, Gallaway said.

"It's not your father's woodshop class because it's all technology-driven and the programming is not hands-on," he said. "Instead, they will do programming through a system to design something on a three-dimensional printer or vinyl poster-maker."

The labs typically include "a laser cutter that makes two-dimensional and three-dimensional structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution NC milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, a large wood router for building furniture and housing and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping," according to MIT.

Gallaway said New Albany-Plain Local's version also will focus on robotics.

The district implemented Robotics II the past school year with Henry, a robot that speaks eight languages and is able to recognize faces and respond to requests. He was purchased in 2013 with a $19,000 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

District officials plan to purchase more of the robots this year and expand the class.

The fab labs initially were developed for communities to encourage entrepreneurs but have been adopted by schools as platforms for STEM education, according to MIT's website.

Gallaway said the district is providing professional development to teachers so they can become acquainted with the equipment in the lab and begin planning ways to incorporate its use into the classroom.

The district is targeting high school and middle school students but, Gallaway said, if a fifth-grade teacher links a classroom lesson to one of the machines, the teacher could take the class to the lab.

"It will provide opportunities at our fingertips, so students will not have to leave the campus," he said.

Gallaway said the lab also would be open to students from other districts, similar to the way the district operates the environmental-science class hosted by the Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools, one of the project partners.

The fab lab is being paid for by a $1,132,229 grant from the Ohio Department of Education's Straight A Fund.

It is part of a $14.4 million grant from the fund given to 16 Franklin County school districts participating in the Innovation Generation initiative, which is part of the national Pathways to Prosperity Network that seeks to establish career pathways in advanced manufacturing/robotics, business logistics, health care and information technology.

Reynoldsburg is the lead district accepting and distributing funds. The other participating districts are Canal Winchester, Columbus, Gahanna-Jefferson, Grandview Heights, Hilliard, Licking Heights, Marysville, New Albany-Plain Local, Olentangy, Pickerington, South-Western, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Whitehall.

A second component of New Albany-Plain Local's grant funds will capitalize on the district's students' interest in medical professions, Gallaway said.

He said the health initiative would include opportunities for students based in community medical centers, learning bio-medical research, engineering and potential health careers.

Reynoldsburg initially announced New Albany-Plain Local would receive $872,228.

Tricia Moore, Reynoldsburg's director of partnerships and shared services, said as the projects have evolved, the budget changed.

Gallaway said district officials plan to sponsor an open house for parents to tour the fab lab this fall.

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