Pennsylvania County Unveils Mobile Lab for STEAM Education

Bucks County unveiled a $412,000 fab lab that will deliver science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics as it makes weeklong stops at various elementary and middle schools in all 13 county school districts.

by Chris English, Bucks County Courier Times / February 25, 2019
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(TNS) — The latest in STEAM education in Bucks County rolled its way into a Pennridge elementary school Monday for its debut, bringing with it the latest in science technology that officials say will connect and prepare students for jobs now in demand.

Officials and visitors gathered at Seylar Elementary School in Hilltown for some brief remarks and a ribbon-cutting for the Bucks County Mobile Fab Lab operated by the county's intermediate unit.

Billed as "STEAM education on the go," covering science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, the lab will spend a week at Seylar and then move on to weeklong stops at various elementary and middle schools in all 13 county school districts.

Purchased and equipped by the IU using a $412,000 PAsmart grant administered by the state's Department of Education, the mobile fab lab has two 3-D printers, silhouette portrait fabricator, vinyl cutter, computer numerical controller router, laser cutter and various other pieces of robotics and STEAM-related devices. The equipment will be unloaded and placed in larger spaces at each school, like a cafeteria or gymnasium, for students and teachers to use.

"It will do wonderful things for students throughout Bucks County," Bucks County IU Executive Director Mark Hoffman said.

"This is an incredible, incredible milestone," IU STEAM Education Supervisor Lindsey Rutherford Sides added.

"Why is it so important? There were 300,000 STEM jobs in Pennsylvania in 2017 and of those, 17,000 were unfilled. In Bucks County, advanced manufacturing jobs were cited as the kind in most demand. The purpose of this lab is to help connect those dots, to fill those jobs with trained people, and help prepare these students for the workforce."

Judd Pittman, special consultant to the state education secretary on STEM, said using the equipment from the mobile lab "should help young learners put their hands and minds together and understand the relevancy of what they are learning as it relates to future employment needs."

One project at Seylar this week has fifth-graders using software to design windmills and then fabricating them with the Mobile Fab Lab equipment and hooking them up via electronic circuitry to power a light bulb. It's a lesson in sustainable energy, IU Mobile Fab Lab Program Coordinator Megan Boletta said.

Another project will involve third-graders using robotics from the lab to simulate a solar eclipse, she added.

"It's all about taking an idea and going through the steps of turning it into reality," Boletta said.

The Mobile Fab Lab is one of only 50 in the country, Bucks County IU officials said.

When not in use at schools, officials plan to take it during the summer and on weekends to homeless shelters and other facilities where low-income families can take advantage.

"The Mobile Fab Lab will support innovative teaching and learning in schools throughout all of Bucks County," Hoffman said. "Having a van that can move between schools allows the districts to bring cutting-edge, modern equipment directly to the students and their teachers. This helps to ensure that Bucks County schools are preparing young people today for the jobs they'll hold tomorrow."

©2019 Bucks County Courier Times, Levittown, Pa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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