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Bay Area Discovery Museum's FAB Lab: Grand Opening

May 16, 2016
By Stephen Thomforde

This past Saturday, the Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM) held the grand opening for the world’s first Early Childhood FAB Lab. For those who don’t know, a FAB Lab is very similar to a maker space, but has more of a focus on technology and tools. The museum, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is a great indoor/outdoor space in Fort Baker housed in multiple army barracks.

In the Lab, children will have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, hand tools, and a whole suite of STEM focused activities. Sparkfactor.org supported the new FAB Lab in purchasing their Laser cutter.

Saturday was also the final installment of the museum’s STEM superhero series. The day's theme was “Coding Our Future”. There were a whole host of booths set up for kids to explore different aspects of coding in a tactile and age appropriate way.

One such booth was looking at coding through music. There were xylophones with adjustable bars. By placing the bars in a particular order, the kids could run their “code” from one end to the other and create a song. While many kids simply used the xylophones or made small modifications, some kids began with a blank slate and built up a “code” (or song) from the different bars. Each child also got a cape to exercise their Super Coding Powers.

At 10:30 AM the FAB Lab had its ribbon cutting. By that time there was a fine mist of rain but it didn’t stop families from coming out. The Lab was packed. As an intro event, each person received a wooden key and could use the Lab’s laser cutter to engrave their names.

To run the FAB Lab program, the museum hired Tristan Schoening as the new Designer-in-Residence. He brings his experience with 3D printers, CNC machines, blueprint drafting, and a host of other Maker skills. Tristan was in charge of the laser cutter on Saturday.

The FAB Lab also showed many other projects that the kids had worked on. Students were asked to design a skyscraper that would stand up to wind. They got to build, test, and rebuild several times. This type of iterative design is not only fun, but truly embodies the tinkering Maker culture that sparks one’s imagination.

Despite the Lab’s emphasis on technology, what they truly teach is creativity. It’s more important to teach kids that they are able to create and invent. The museum’s CEO Karyn Flynn described the The Lab as the next great tool to spark creativity in the minds of their visitors, and we at Sparkfactor.org agree.