Introducing the 'Fab Lab'

Posted on 7th Mar 2016 in Which School?, School News

Marymount International School celebrates the opening of a fully-equipped Fabrication Laboratory.

Marymount International School, an independent all girls’ school in Kingston upon Thames, is the first school in the UK to open a brand new Fabrication Laboratory (or Fab Lab). The term ‘Fab Lab’ refers to a small-scale workshop with an array of computer controlled fabrication tools. This gives students the power to turn ideas and concepts into reality and to make just about anything they can think of. When used in an academic environment it enables the tuition of computer programming, coding, robotics and design. All these areas straddle the disciplines of mathematics, physics and technology as well as art and design and appeals to the creativity of each student. The lab at Marymount is equipped with 3D printers, a 3D scanner, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, a sublimating printer, a large format printer and a number of laptops. 

Marymount has always been a forward thinking school with a cutting edge approach. It recognises the urgent need for students – girls in particular – to be offered a richer curriculum in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It is a known fact that girls are under used in areas like engineering and Marymount encourages them all to take the opportunity to enter into this field. The school uses the Fab Lab to teach a number of academic disciplines with the potential for creative thinking from both staff and students. Making them familiar with a so-called ‘design, do and discover’ attitude is one of the positive elements that working in a creative digital environment will have.
The idea of opening a Fab Lab at a UK school came from the New York ‘Avenues’ School as well as Marymount School, a sister school, also situated in New York. The latter is a leader in innovation and a major proponent and practitioner of design, thinking and making and opened its Fab Lab in 2011. 

On a professional trip, the Headmistress of Marymount London, Sarah Gallagher, visited both schools and was impressed with the opportunities provided by a Fab Lab. She felt that every school should have such an inter-disciplinary digital space – a necessary requirement for 21st century students worldwide. Once back from her trip, the wheels were set in motion and the development of the first Fab Lab in a UK school started. 

The Fab Lab was fully equipped and finished in September 2014. It was officially opened in January 2015 by Baroness Greenfield, a scientist known for her work on the physiology of the brain. She also authored the report SET Fair: A Report on Women, Engineering and Technology. In a lecture following the opening, the Baroness said that compared with their male counterparts, women in science today face many challenges. She described these challenges as “banana skins, bottle necks and elephant traps” but emphasised that girls interested in science should be far from pessimistic. She concluded by quoting Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcine (1909–2012) who said: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”

Until now, schools in the UK wishing to access a Fab Lab could only do so via universities and independently run workshops. In line with the ‘open source’ philosophy of Fab Labs UK and across the world, Marymount has opened its doors to a range of enthusiastic Fab Lab users. The school already has links with local schools and offers an enrichment programme run by Marymount students with support from staff on a voluntary basis. These sessions take place six times a term on a Saturday morning and are proving to be both popular and successful.

“As we learn and gain proficiency in using the Fab Lab, the offering will grow for students and teachers working together, since the girls’ natural curiosity is engaged by this new technology.” said Ms Gallagher. “All children attending the Saturday enrichment programme will be able to spent time in the Fab Lab and be introduced to its possibilities.”

Current students at Marymount London are encouraged to think about things in a new way when working in the Fab Lab. Looking ahead, their job prospects are greatly enhanced as coding is now a frequent requirement when applying for a position. 

What is most exciting for students and staff is that the Fab Lab can be used across the entire curriculum. From Biology to Theatre Studies and History to English; it appeals to students’ creativity and thought processes and creating a 3D picture of the inner ear makes any biology lesson that more interesting!

For more information about Marymount International School, see their profile on School Search.