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make_backtoschool

With the third year of Project Make underway, I have come to see the laser cutter as the cornerstone tool for a 21st century shop class. It offers speed and versatility far beyond a 3D printer, allowing more students to complete their projects in a given class time. There are a number of free software sources available including Autodesk 123D with ready-made designs. More importantly, the learning curve to create custom designs is very gradual, Students can begin by drawing in most word processing programs and simply “print” to the laser.

Most important for schools, the ongoing materials cost can be kept low. Inexpensive, one-eighth inch plywood available at your local big box hardware store make beautiful wooden creations and showerboard can be transformed to custom whiteboards for classroom use. Our number one choice for prototyping designs and even the final product in many cases is readily abundant: cardboard!

This short video shows the laser in action and some of the projects made by students over the last two years. This year I am focusing the first semester on making objects, primarily with the laser cutter, to sell at holiday crafts fairs to help raise funds for second semester projects. We have sketches of ornaments and nightlights featuring LEDs and other enhancements that we will begin prototyping on the laser as soon as students learn to get them into a digital format. I hope in this process that a spirit of entrepreneurship will take hold which will help to elevate the level of student investment in the outcome.

Start up costs can be as low as $4,000, an investment for sure, but one that I am convinced can pay for itself not only financially, but in increased student engagement. As more people become aware of the possibilities of the laser cutter, it is certain to be put to use creating precise projects for students and low cost, high quality custom instructional materials for teachers. I look forward to the day that a laser cutter is as common in schools as a photocopier.

Follow the students’ progress with the laser cutter at http://projectmake2013.blogspot.com/

Casey Shea

Casey teaches math at Analy High School in Sebastopol, Calif. He joined with MAKE to create the first Project Make class.


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Comments

  1. Could not disagree more. Laser cutting is to shop class as Forza is to driver’s ed.