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Discovering Your Inner Maker

Today’s students often enter high school with very little experience making things themselves; with readily available pre-made products getting more sophisticated every day, we often forget all the hard work and constant innovation that goes on behind the scenes. And, sometimes we become so focused on the coolest new toys and gadgets that we forget to ask what purpose is served by the things we as humans invent and make, and why we are able to be makers in the first place.

All of this and much more is the addressed in our brand-new FabLab classes, taught by Mr. Mobijohn and Mr. St. Louis. On the first day of class, students are encouraged to start thinking of themselves as makers and inventors, not just consumers of products and goods. This can be an exhilarating, but also frightening idea. Some students are sure that their creativity cannot extend to the realms of science, technology, engineering and math, and hesitate to connect them to their interest in arts such as drawing and storytelling. And as young women, they have often assimilated the idea that such activities are “for boys,” causing them not to even consider if they might have interests and talents of their own that could grow and flourish in one of the many STEM fields. 

A Life-time of Learning

Indeed, machines such as vinyl cutters, 3-D printers, drones, laser cutters and more, along with the CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs used to operate them, can certainly be intimidating at first glance. But by starting out with fundamentals, our students gradually gain confidence and skill, utilizing all these tools and many others to both design and fabricate their own creations. In the ongoing, deeply collaborative process, they also learn crucial communication skills and develop lasting bonds of friendship with their classmates.

Students’ first challenge is to build a free-standing structure using just marshmallows and skewers.

In addition to the history of technological revolutions and changes, one of the most important lessons FabLab students learn is that our ability to create increasingly complex tools, and to use those tools well, is what allows the human species to survive and thrive in the world. Gaining a rich understanding about the properties and potentialities of natural and synthetic materials, students learn how to design and fabricate objects that will be functional and durable. In this way, they begin to see the important connections between manual and digital tools, and to understand that even the most sophisticated digital creation depends on a highly developed understanding of the material, concrete world. Before designing prototypes on the computer, they learn to design by hand, and after designing on the computer, they learn how to test their projects out in the real world. At a time when employers are reporting a dearth of qualified candidates for skilled manufacturing jobs, particularly in male-dominated fields of work, this kind of knowledge provides SJHS students with a much-needed skill-set that will benefit them in their future careers and beyond.

FabLab and Catholic Education – What’s the Connection?

The FabLab program also contributes to St. Joseph High School’s vision for a holistic Catholic education. The Catholic Church teaches that human beings, made in the image of God, are co-creators with him, and that our capacity to endlessly innovate is given to us for the sake of service to ourselves and our families, our society, and the rest of creation. Instead of seeing our abilities as a path to self-aggrandizement and excessive pride, in the Catholic context we learn to put these talents at the service of God, in order to accomplish his work in the world and to praise him. In addition, by opening up opportunities for women in STEM fields, we seek to allow the mutual complementarity of women and men, spoken of so often by Pope John Paul II, to be more fully realized in the realm of work and study.

Far from thinking that works produced by man’s own talent and energy are in opposition to God’s power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the flowering of his own mysterious design. For the greater man’s power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends. … People are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of their fellows. They are, rather, more stringently bound to do these very things.

– Gaudium Et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 2nd Vatican Council


Check out this video about 3-D printing at SJHS from Currents NY: