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Moving from 100 birdhouses that look exactly the same, to students designing and digitally fabricating anything they want!

Elizabeth Forward High School FABLab

location_on Elizabeth Township, United States
In 2014, Elizabeth Forward High School transformed a traditional wood shop with band saws, lathes, table saws and sanders into a digital fabrication playground. In the Industrial Age, students went into a wood shop to create birdhouses and clocks that looked exactly the same. In this new MIT-approved FABLab, students are designing and digitally fabricating anything they want!
Dr. Todd E. Keruskin, Superintendent of Schools
The Elizabeth Forward High School's FABLab allows students to develop an idea to make something and then turn it into a reality. Whether it's an e-textile stuffed animal using a micro-controller connected to a bluetooth device or a solar panel for their lunch box, students are moving toward the Conceptual Age with their learning.

Dr. Todd E. Keruskin, Superintendent of Schools


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Innovation Overview

11 - 18
Age Group
Updated on September 17th, 2021
about the innovation

Why Do We Need to Develop Makers for Tomorrow?

Are you trying to bring creativity, collaboration, innovation and problem solving skills to your school?  Do you want kids to utilize technology beyond playing games?  Are you trying to get more girls involved in STEM? Are you trying to teach students how to become an entrepreneur? 

In 2014, Elizabeth Forward High School transformed an Industrial Age wood shop into a Conceptual Age digital fabrication playground.  While the new MIT-approved FABLab has traditional wood shop tools and CNC routers in the dirty lab, a new clean lab has laser cutters, vinyl cutters, 3D printers, an electronics station and collaborative spaces for students.

Elizabeth Forward FABLab teachers started to get trained on all the new equipment by local businesses, including sign companies and nearby fabrication companies. Initially, it was very difficult to find the right professional development for our teachers.  In 2015, a group of local maker educators decided to create the Pittsburgh FAB Network.  This network was designed to gather local maker educators together several times a year to share project ideas and best practices.  It was so successful, the group decided to create the summer Pittsburgh FAB Institute. In it's fifth year, this 4-day training is designed to support elementary and secondary maker educators from beginners to experts.

Elizabeth Forward High School FABLab teachers started to move away from the Industrial Age wood shop projects like bird houses and clocks, and the instructors started to teach design thinking, prototyping and how to use the new digital fabrication software and hardware tools. Students started the design process, using their creativity and collaborating on project ideas.  Students started to digitally fabricate! One student built a canoe with the help of a MIT professor and EF's FABLab teacher and tested it in the school pool. Other projects included furniture, digital wall displays, an electric powered car, parabolic lanterns, escape rooms, 3D-printed chocolate bars designed from  scanned objects to digitally fabricated art. Check out Adam Savage's tour of Elizabeth Forward High School's FABLab!

Elizabeth Forward High School FABLab teachers realized there was a need to get more females into the FABLab and to increase overall accessibility to the FABLab. Therefore, the teachers removed the prerequisites for the maker class so ALL high school students could have the opportunity to enroll in the maker class. Elizabeth Forward High School administrators created an all girls maker class and after two years, there are now 50 girls taking advantage of this opportunity! 

Elizabeth Forward High School FABLab teachers partnered with the Real World Scholars from San Diego, California to bring entrepreneurship into the FABLab. The EdCorps platform offered a new way to bring entrepreneurialism into the FABLab. For the first time ever,  Elizabeth Forward Students built a real student-run business to learn FABLab content, develop the entrepreneurial mindset, and build the skills they need to make their communities a better place.  Elizabeth Forward High School now has a student-run business called the iSH Co. (which stands for "In Student Hands") and works with the school district, parents, booster programs and community businesses. The iSH Co. specializes in the customization of various products including: phone grips, magnets, banners, lanyards, and any type of sticker you can think of. All these items can be personalized by the students within the company!


See this innovation in action

Elizabeth Forward Teachers were trained on how to teach prototyping to students without a large amount of type and glue.  Design thinking is a key component in the EF's FABLab and helps develop simple strategies to connect card stock before wasting any expensive materials.
Building a Canoe?
A high school student wanted to digitally fabricate a canoe!  What do you say in a FABLab?  You say YES!  The student, the FABLab teacher and a MIT Professor worked together to learn how to digitally fabricate the canoe, from the ribs of the canoe to the digitally fabricated vinyl letters on the side of the canoe.
FABLab helping an Elementary Garden!
Elizabeth Forward High School's FABLab worked on the Greenock Elementary garden and digitally fabricated worm boxes and raised garden boxes.  EF's FABLab is truly focusing on helping the community!
Earbud Product Design Challenge
All 5th graders in Elizabeth Forward School District collaborate in small groups on an earbud project.  The design challenge is to 3D print a product so your earbuds are not tangled when placed in a backpack, briefcase and/or purse.  These 5th graders are required to follow the design thinking process and prototype their device and then finally design it on TinkerCAD and 3D print their final product.
Chocolate Dad?
A student 3D scanned her father, 3D printed her dad, created a mold of the 3D print and poured chocolate into the mold....Chocolate Dad!
School Board Member Participating in a FABLab Class!
A school board member participated in an evening community FABLab class and digitally fabricated her own toolbox!  This toolbox was cut out on a CNC router and never touched a table saw, drill press or band saw.  She learned how to design the toolbox on a computer and programmed the CNC router to cut out the entire box!
Elizabeth Forward Elementary FABLabs
As of 2018, all Elizabeth Forward Elementary Schools have a developmentally appropriate FABLab and elementary students rotate into the maker space on a 10-day rotation.  These elementary FABLabs consist of laser cutters, CNC routers, vinyl cutters, heat presses, sublimation printers, traditional maker tools and plenty of consumable supplies.
Guitar created on a CNC Router
For one of the first projects, Mr. Glass created a guitar using the CNC router!
Digitally Fabricated Chairs
Students were given a challenge to design any piece of furniture using wood and a CNC router! Students had to draw, prototype, design and cut out their furniture using a CNC router!
DREAM Factory
Elizabeth Forward Middle School created a DREAM Factory that is an approved MIT FABLab.  This state-of-the-art maker space, the DREAM Factory, brings shop class into the digital-age with an integrated approach that connects design, development and fabrication for 6th through 8th grade students.  Combining art and design, computer science and technology education, the DREAM Factory enables every middle school student to learn about modern technical fields like robotics, engineering, design, and programming for ALL middle school students.
Elizabeth Forward High School FABLab's Student-Run Business
Pittsburgh FAB Network and Summer FAB Institute
In 2015, the Elizabeth Forward School District created a Pittsburgh FAB Network for educators from schools in the region to share maker ideas and strategies.  Every summer, 175 maker educators come to the annual Pittsburgh FAB Institute!Check out the Pittsburgh FAB Institute website:Pittsburgh FAB Network
CNC Furniture
Students were given a challenge to design any piece of furniture using wood and a CNC router!  Students had to draw, prototype, design and cut out their furniture using a CNC router!
CNC Furniture
Students could create personally designed projects.
Pop Art Selfie
Students use Photoshop and Illustrator to create a Pop Art selfies.  Students learn about a local artist, Andy Warhol, throughout the project.
CNC Furniture
CNC Furniture
Students were responsible for all phases of design and construction of the furniture projects. 
Student Guitar
A student wanted to design and create his own working guitar!  The student researched guitars, prototyped his design, digitally designed the guitar and then cut it out using a CNC router! 
Maintenance Snow Plow!
The maintenance crew wanted some decoration on their snow plow and the FABLab students digitally fabricated vinyl decals for the plow!
Cardboard Spooky Houses -- Halloween!
For Halloween, students digitally fabricated spooky houses with LEDs using cardboard and their imaginations!  Students had to collaborate with each other, prototype a house, digitally designed the house and then used a laser cutter to cut out the shapes.
Adam Savage vs. EF Warrior (created with layers of plywood and a CNC cutter)
Adam Savage, from Mythbusters, visited Elizabeth Forward High School's FABLab to talk with the all girls maker class!Check out the video here:  Adam Savage Tour of EF's FABLab


Achievements & Awards

May 2019
January 2019
Innovation page created on

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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Visit Other FABLabs!
Visit other FABLabs in person or virtually.
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Creating New Space!
Paint the walls! Add flexible furniture to help with student collaboration!
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Project-Based Learning
What type of projects do you want to make in your new FABLab?
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Software and Hardware Decisions
As you to build your FABLab, what software and hardware is appropriate for your age level?
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Professional Development for FABLab Teachers
Moving from away from the traditional wood shops and students using table saws, ban saws and sanders to digital fabrication tools can be difficult. Your new FABLab teachers will need intense professional development on these new tools.
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What kind of materials will we need?
Depending your project ideas, your FABLab will need to determine the materials needed for the different projects.
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