Hamilton County School Adds to World's Largest Collection of Fab Labs
Posted on 10/22/2020
Photo: Cash Keene, a student at Signal Mountain Middle/High School with his laser-cut image produced in the eLab.Hamilton County Schools has opened eLabs in five new schools to add to the number already recognized by the Fab Foundation as the world's largest concentration of educational Fab Labs. The foundation is a Boston-based non-profit organization that emerged from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms Fab Lab Program.

Hamilton County Schools has opened new eLabs at Middle Valley Elementary, Signal Mountain Middle/High, Lookout Valley Middle/High, and Loftis Middle. The fifth will be the Harrison Elementary eLab when the new school building welcomes students in January.

The Hamilton County Board of Education funded the five eLabs to allow more students to experience hands-on learning, digital fabrication, and problem-solving using design thinking. The board is committed to helping students be future-ready and prepared for success after high school, as outlined in the five-year strategic plan, Future Ready 2023.

"Our strategic direction for the district is to provide rich learning experiences for all students," said Jill Levine, chief of Innovation and Choice for the district. "Investments in Fab Labs will pay-off in improved digital literacy skills, greater student engagement, increased personalization of learning, and student ownership of learning."

The eLab initiative provides students with access to digital fabrication tools, including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3D printers, robotics, and laser cutters, to empower the young learners to engage in authentic problem-solving. In the labs, students are designing and 3D printing orthopedic devices for people and pets with special needs, conducting research on the viability of autonomous electric vehicles, and taking salvaged parts from a computer to build a robot. Seven labs successfully launched student-run entrepreneurial ventures to run a classroom-based business.

"The district is committed to providing eLabs for students because they are helping to ensure graduates of Hamilton County Schools are future-ready and prepared for success after high school," said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. "These labs provide opportunities for students to tackle problems individuals may encounter in our world today and opens doors to possibilities for the future."

STEM School Chattanooga pioneered the Fab Lab work in Hamilton County Schools when they opened the first lab in Tennessee in 2014. By the summer of 2017, the lab at STEM School was identified by the Fab Foundation as one of two national models for how to integrate digital fabrication into K-12 schools effectively. While the labs operate under a model that uniquely fits each school, the common goal is to develop future-ready students prepared to thrive as adaptive, independent problem solvers in any industry.

Building on this success, the STEM school lab became the model for the development of Volkswagen eLabs in 16 Hamilton County Schools over the next two years. In partnership with Volkswagen Group of America, the State of Tennessee, and the Public Education Foundation (PEF), Hamilton County Schools opened the first eight VW eLabs at The Howard School, CSAS, Sale Creek, Dalewood Middle, Red Bank High, Normal Park, East Hamilton Middle-High, and Hunter Middle in 2017. PEF continues to be a valuable partner in the eLabs, working closely with the Office of Innovation and Choice of Hamilton County Schools to provide professional development and ongoing support of the teachers and administrators leading the labs.

A year later, VW eLabs opened at Brainerd High, Brown Middle, Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts, Hixson Middle, Hixson High, Ooltewah Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, and Soddy Daisy Middle.

In November 2019, the district looked to add to eLab options for students with community partner Chattanooga State. The two unveiled new plans for a shared lab available to students in kindergarten through twelfth-grade in Hamilton County Schools, as well as first and second-year college students at Chattanooga State. The college campus will be the home for the new Global Center for Innovation that will be located near the STEM School Chattanooga campus when it opens next year.

Photo: Cash Keene, a student at Signal Mountain Middle/High School with his laser-cut image produced in the eLab.