Students Mia Crawley and Graham Dearing demonstrate to Brent Kindred, technology and engineering consultant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction at the Oct. 2 opening of Badger High School’s PHab Lab. (Submitted photo)

By Michael S. Hoey


Badger High School had a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 2 to commemorate the opening of its new PHabLab facility next to the library learning center.

Local and state dignitaries attended including Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Sen. Steve Nass and Lake Geneva Mayor Tom Hartz.

A traditional “fab lab,” or fabrication laboratory, offers students access to 3-D printers, laser cutters and engravers and other pieces of technology. Badger’s lab is called a “PHab Lab” because of its partnership with Palmer Hamilton LLC of Elkhorn. Principal Russ Tronsen said the school began looking into adding a fab lab last year with the application for a state grant to fund the cost. The school did not get the grant, but Palmer Hamilton, a leader in the development of fab lab spaces for K-12 schools, reached out to see if Badger would be interested in becoming a development site for them.

“It was a no-brainer for us as we had strong support to develop a space,” Tronsen said.
Tronsen said a library committee and an advisory board decided to apply for the state grant, so there was genuine interest in bringing a fab lab to Badger.

The lab was placed next to the library to make it accessible to all students during the school day and before and after school. Tronsen said technology classrooms have some similar technology, but it is often tied up during the school day with students in those classes.

“We wanted to be able to allow students to gain access without having to be tied to a specific class for use,” Tronsen said.

Tronsen said the library is an ideal space for the PHab Lab because it is and will continue to be a hub for the school. In addition to the 3-D printers and laser engravers, students will have access to a table-top computer-numeric-control machine and programs like Tinker Cad and Inventor Cloud. The lab has collaborative space for students to network and collaborate via a Google Jamboard. Tronsen said other pieces will be added later as the school assesses what it has and the need and demand for more.

“Students can benefit greatly from this space through developing inventor/innovative skills, collaboration, problem-solving and other 21st-century skills,” Tronsen said. “Additionally, our core academic areas can benefit through the embedded lessons that are available for those areas.”

Tronsen said students can access the lab by coming to the library and talking with media specialist Rachel Harmeling to learn about the equipment and how to use it. Some students are also being trained to be peer mentors for other students in the lab with the goal of making the lab primarily run by students in the future with support from Harmeling.

Harmeling is in her second year at Badger. She was hired at a time when the library space was slated for a rebranding. She said part of her interview process was to write a short essay regarding renovation ideas. After she was hired, she worked with a committee of students and staff to finalize plans. The space was made much more open to student collaboration with the relocation or elimination of bookshelves and the addition of new furniture conducive to collaboration.

Harmeling said “makerspaces” are a trend in libraries in which patrons can come in and create or check out materials to create things. She said she and Tronsen wanted something like that at Badger but more in the fab lab area to meet the needs of Badger students. She said the partnership with Palmer Hamilton helped make that happen as the company wants the Badger lab to be a turn-key facility to market to other school districts.

Harmeling said student collaboration and the use of the many technologies in the lab are the chief benefits of the lab.

“The PHab Lab gives equal access of fabrication technologies to all students regardless of their career pathways and elective courses chosen,” Harmeling said.

Palmer Hamilton is launching a new business division in 2019 offering labs like this one with science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, curriculum. Labs come with furniture, wall graphics, equipment, training and support. Badger’s facility is a pilot facility for that program, and it was open for student use in time for the start of school Sept. 4.

Orientation and training for staff and students will continue this fall including the opportunity for some students to get certified from the National Coalition of Certification Centers and become aides in the lab. The STEAM curriculum will be introduced in the spring.

“The schools all want to do this,” Palmer Hamilton chief executive officer John Gardner said, according to a press release.

“The thing is, most of them don’t know how to get it started, what equipment to purchase, how to get the training to properly implement it, obtain the STEAM curriculum to go with it, which is critically important, and have support when something breaks,” Gardner said. “That’s what we’re bringing to schools.”


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