Using a Laser Cutter if You Don't Teach STEAM

You’ve probably heard about the power of digital fabrication tools to create opportunities for deeper student learning and high-level student problem solving. There are incredible stories of feats achieved by students in robotics and engineering and other STEM classes using laser cutters and 3D printers. But what does a laser cutter have to do with kindergarten language arts class?

As it turns out, quite a bit. As you will learn in our story, even kindergarten teachers can harness the power of a Dremel Digilab laser cutter to make their lessons more hands-on and more minds-on for their students. The tool’s speed, versatility, and simplicity makes it easy to add a dimension of problem solving to non-STEAM lessons. Learning becomes more participatory, meaningful, and lasting for students--ideal outcomes for every teacher.

Story Time: Laser Cutters and Read Alouds

A kindergarten class is reading a picture book version of the classic tale, Jack and the Beanstalk. Students are particularly engaged in the story today because they are on a problem-solving mission. 

In this version of the story, Jack is stuck at the base of the beanstalk and can’t reach the first branch to begin his climb. The teacher pauses the story and asks the class:

“What might be all the tools we can create for Jack to help him solve his problem right now? How might we help Jack get up the beanstalk?” 1

Students break into groups. They chatter hurriedly as six-year-olds do and each group emerges with a kindergarten-style sketch drawn on an iPad or Chromebook with Google Sketchup, Inkscape, or CorelDraw. The students have designed a ladder, of course, and also a rope, a helicopter, and a trampoline. 2

The teacher then exports each image as a PDF (with vector data) to be cut or engraved on the DigiLab laser cutter. Each file is dragged and dropped into the laser cutter software interface. 

The teacher then loads the laser cutter bed with a sheet of single wall corrugated cardboard. DigiLab’s camera capture takes a picture of the bed of the laser and the teacher can then drag and drop each image to place it on the cardboard exactly where it will be cut out. All of the prototypes will be cut and ready in about 10 minutes, so the group takes a break to eat their morning snacks.

After their quick snack break, each student group is able to hold a cardboard prototype of its solution to help Jack. They are eager to get back to the story. The teacher ad libs, inserting each group’s solution before the page is turned and they see how Jack actually conquered the beanstalk: “Jack placed the trampoline at the base of the beanstalk, stood in the middle, and jumped--One, two, three! On the third jump he was high enough to reach the first rung of the beanstalk and he pulled himself up with his strong arms.”

When they find that Jack used a ladder in the book, the teacher doesn’t say the team that prototyped a ladder was right. The merits of each solution had been discussed and demonstrated already. They were all viable solutions designed by the children. 

The next day, the teacher leads the class in writing its own “fractured fairy tale” or twist on the original story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They change it by writing their own solutions into the story3, the solutions they designed and prototyped on the laser cutter4.

The kindergarten teacher in this story is required to teach a unit on fairy tales. She is required to meet literacy standards and teach her students to work together. Using the laser cutter for education and problem solving in this way helped make the entire experience more meaningful and memorable for students. They applied their own knowledge and grew a multitude of skills.