Orleans Digital Fabrication Lab: Reimagining Learning Through Making

“Take it to the Dawgs Den,” is a mantra that is becoming synonymous with innovation and hands-on learning at Orleans High School. The Dawgs Den is a digital fabrication lab at Orleans High School, one of three installed across the Collaboration of Shoals, Mitchell, & Orleans Schools (COSMOS) in 2020.

ROI awarded grants to six school districts to install nine digital fabrication labs across the Indiana Uplands as part of a Fab Lab Pilot program. Teachers from Orleans, Shoals, Mitchell, Bloomfield, Monroe County, and Richland-Bean Blossom school districts will receive safety and equipment training in addition to project-based learning training focused on leveraging the tools in the lab to extend student learning. Each lab supports making with 3D printing, laser cutting, vinyl cutting, and microelectronics.

Sophomore Allison Jones’ first experience in the Dawgs Den was through her Animal Sciences class. She was challenged to create a tool to aid others in learning about the respiratory and digestive systems of a cow. She chose the Glowforge laser cutter to create a cow and designed vinyl stickers to finish the digestive system diagram. Others in her class made models utilizing the 3D printer.

“…You may just be creating a tip jar or an operation game, but I think it goes a lot deeper than that because you have to solve your own problems.

There’s something for everyone.”

-Allison Jones, Student

As a result of challenges like this one, students are thinking more deeply about academic content through fabrication. “We have to think for ourselves and really think about how to represent what we’re learning,” said Jones. “It’s one of the main reasons that we all like it down here so much.”

Other students agree. “This is not typical, and it’s not boring. It’s new stuff that I’ve never seen,” says senior Brandon Stalker. After working in the Dawgs Den for his entrepreneurship class, he feels like he’s just had a small peek into all that is possible in a lab like this one, and he’s motivated. “When I had a week to work in the Dawgs Den, I looked forward to coming to school.”

High-tech machines like the ones in the Dawgs Den can be intimidating if you’ve never used them before, and yet classes are fully scheduled in the Dawgs Den from now until spring break. Teachers and students at Orleans attribute this to Mrs. Bradley, a veteran English teacher who is now the full-time teacher in the Dawgs Den. Her colleagues describe her as “the right teacher for the space,” and students appreciate the culture she has created. They describe her as someone who is easy going and doesn’t do everything for them. They appreciate that. Instead, Mrs. Bradley provides resources through a Google classroom so that students are empowered to lead their own learning. As for teachers, “I go around and try to drum up business,” she admits. And teachers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of putting the project ideas into the students’ hands.

Students from the Animal Science class at Orleans High School create a Shrek Operation game using electronics

Students see their work in the Dawgs Den experience as a challenging and rewarding way to learn content for their high school classes. They also understand the implications for their future. Rali Anderson shared that she wants to become an Ultrasound Technician. “That doesn’t have anything to do with these machines, but I know how to figure it out. I’m just learning to be more independent.”

That “drive to figure it out” was exactly what Rali’s health sciences classmate Samantha Pate needed when she set out to create a working buzzer for her group’s Operation-like game. Jacie Salmon, a senior intern in the Dawgs Den, admittedly noted, “There is no way this is going to work, but Samantha figured it out!” Electronics kits are now something Jacie wants to learn more about.

“The students did not give up! It was so good for me, as a teacher, to see them keep trying to solve the problem. Those are the parts that you don’t get in a typical project in the classroom.”

-Mrs. Salmon, Health Sciences Teacher
Students use collaboration and problem solving as they work together to carry out their project goals
Students utilize digital tools, like this 3D printer, to design and create solutions to problems

Orleans is a small rural district where students have a lot of pride in their school. Students see the Dawgs Den and the learning they do there as something in which they can be proud and hope to set an example for other schools that might be considering digital fabrication. At the end of the day, students are thankful for the experience and encourage anyone with a similar opportunity to open their mind and give it a try.