Neidig students experience Fab Lab technology

The program, supported by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, allows students to explore topics like building, creating, designing and coding that are directly tied to their curriculum.
Posted on 01/13/2022
Neidig students operate the Sphero, a spherical robot programmed to roll around and perform different functions using an iPad App. By Gary Weckselblatt

The Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Fab Lab has been visiting Neidig Elementary School this week, giving students an opportunity to learn from its cutting-edge technology that’s designed to inspire and encourage them to pursue careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) fields.

Neidig Fab Lab’s work this week (Jan. 10-14), which includes students in grades 1 through 5, is linked to its curriculum and helps prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce, which will require them to be skilled in computer science and digital fabrication.

Students in fourth grade, for example, this week’s Fab Lab priority grade, have been learning about magnetic fields and creating a code path. JoAnn Klee’s fourth-graders were introduced to Sphero, a spherical robot programmed to roll around and perform different functions using an iPad App.

Younger students have been studying the importance of the oceans or creating buildings for communities. Some of the work is done on a laser engraver or other digital fabrication equipment.

“This is a great experience for our students,” said Stacey DiCicco, the Neidig teacher who signed her school up for the program that’s in great demand. “This gives them a real hands-on opportunity to discover something they might like to pursue.”

She praised Adrienne Romano, coordinator of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s Fab Lab program, who’s been teaching the classes.

“The exposure to these technologies really prepares them for how significant the digital fabrication labs are in our industries and may be used in a future career,” Mrs. Romano said. “Understanding the equipment better is a definite plus. We need more students well-rounded in their knowledge of these technologies.”

The lab is a transit van that transports several carts full of equipment such as 3D printers, a laser engraver, CNC router, vinyl cutter, and a variety of robotics equipment. It also has laptop computers with specialized software programs to control and interact with the equipment.
The equipment is very expensive. Through PAsmart Grants, the BCIU received $150,000 for the Fab Lab, to expand teacher professional development, and expand the reach of the Fab Lab to county public libraries and school districts with the greatest populations of homeless students and low-income families.

There’s great demand for the unit, and its annual one-week residencies at schools
fills up in approximately 36 hours once it’s posted, Mrs. Romano said.

Principal Scott Godshalk said Mrs. DiCicco “organized, planned and was the brains behind the whole operation.”

“This is a unique experience for our students, and we are excited to have this learning opportunity here at Neidig,” he said. “It is inspiring to see our students fabricating evidence of their learning using these new tools. The Fab Lab also helps the teaching team identify new and exciting ways to engage students with our curriculum.”

JoAnn Klee’s fourth-grade classes were introduced to Sphero, a spherical robot programmed to roll around and perform different functions using an iPAD App. The students worked in groups of two.

Previously, this school year, the Fab Lab visited Richland in October and Pfaff in November.

“This takes them to the next level, which is phenomenal,” Richland social studies teacher Stephanie Traumuller said of the Fab Lab. “It’s fabulous that the IU makes this available. Kids love engaging with new technology. I’ll be doing something and they’ll tell me, ‘No, it goes like this.’ They show me! They pick it up so fast. Without the IU we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.
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