Bering Strait School District unveils Fab Lab course in Unalakleet

At the Unalakleet School, a new class has been added to the curriculum for students that currently no other school in the Bering Strait School District offers. It’s called Fab Lab.

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Taught by Reid Tulloch, the Fab Lab class has resources like vinyl cutters, 3D printers and laser engravers available for students to use. (Photo by Davis Hovey, KNOM - Nome)
Taught by Reid Tulloch, the Fab Lab class has resources like vinyl cutters, 3D printers and laser engravers available for students to use. (Photo by Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome)

Principal of the Wolfpack body, Perry Corsetti, started the school day by leading his students in the Pledge of Allegiance. Morning classes  commenced, and by 9:00, Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher Reid Tulloch began instructing his students to work with advanced technologies.

“We call it ‘Fab Lab,’ it’s really a ‘makerspace’ that we created, and it’s got 10 PC computers with a Rhino 3D design software,” Tulloch said. “And we work in conjunction with a vinyl cutter, so we can make vinyl stickers or signs that go on the end of doors. We also have a laser engraver, cutter that’s the next thing the kids use, and then last, we have a 3D printer prototyper.”

Tulloch said his students learn how to work with 2-dimensional objects, then “two and a half” dimensions, and finally work their way up to 3 dimensional objects and print them out with the printer.

In Tulloch’s second Fab Lab class of the day, one of the senior students, Genesis Blatchford, worked on creating a 3D box using an instructional packet and a computer program. Blatchford already finished the previous assignment, which was a key chain that he designed himself.

“I took the class because I did a drafting class back at my old school. I knew I liked drafting, and something where I can be more artistic, ’cause I really like art, too… We could create your own designs and stuff like that key chain was really fun making,” Blatchford recalled.

Even though this is not a music class, a guitar was also made with Fab Lab technologies by BSSD’s CTE facilitator, Chase Ervin.

Both Ervin and Tulloch took classes in college that prepared them to operate some of these Fab Lab technologies, but Ervin said understanding how to use the programs is the key to success.

“We did go down to Sitka to a training, where they pretty much gave us a file and we printed it out,” Ervin said. “But once you learn the programs, you begin to understand what you can and can’t do, so basically, I’m able to go in and build my own guitar and know the limits and capabilities of the machines that we’re running.”

Ervin said when teaching the students, the staff tries to use their projects to focus on the needed skills rather than just teaching repeatability.

John Weemes, the Coordinator of Program Support for the BSSD, believes there is a greater skill to be learned, as well.

“Not only transferable skills whether it’s running a piece of software or running a grinder or running an editing program to update a web page, yes that’s important, but in my view, what’s even more important is having students collaborate across the region, because they are our leaders, they are our future leaders in our region, in the state, and beyond, and that’s an authentic structure where they can engage in meaningful tasks that build their capacity to work together to achieve a goal,” Weemes stated.

Weemes has a grand vision for collaboration between the Fab Lab and various sites across the school district which would mirror businesses in the industry.

“So let’s take Ulus as an example,” Weemes began. “We could use a CNC plasma cutter that’s in one of our sites, which is NACTEC, so they profile the blanks. Another site that has a functioning metal shop might grind those blanks, yet another site might CNC 3D print those blanks… you see where I’m going with this.”

If this vision comes to fruition, Weemes said the $100,000 Fab Lab could be partially self-sustaining and cover its own operating costs.

Currently some of the Unalakleet Fab Lab students are working on creating stickers for Eskimo Ninja Warrior Nick Hanson. An upcoming project for all of the Fab Lab classes will be creating puzzles for Santa’s Workshop in December.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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