Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity Receives $75,000 Grant from Cisco to Support K–8 Digital Fabrication Software Tool

Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity Receives $75,000 Grant from Cisco to Support K–8 Digital Fabrication Software Tool

Congratulations to former Digital Media and Learning Competition winners, Reynolds Center (collaborators involved in Fab@School), for their recent Cisco grant!

BOSTON, MA – Boston-based nonprofit Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning, and Creativity (Reynolds Center TLC) has announced a $75,000 grant from Cisco to help fund the development of Fab@School Designer, a student- and teacher-friendly digital fabrication software tool designed to engage K-8 students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math(STEM) learning. The Web-based Fab@School Designer software application allows students to construct a wide array of objects, including pop-ups, geometric solids, packaging, windmills, speakers, and other working machines. As students take their concepts from mind's eye to physical form, teachers introduce critical STEM learning in a more personally meaningful and engaging context. Cisco has a track record of funding multi-phase education initiatives, including the initial creation and development phase, and may consider additional funding for Fab@School Designer as the project unfolds.

“The Reynolds Center TLC is honored to be named as a Cisco Community Partner and to receive one of its Global Impact Grants,” Reynolds Center Co-Founder Paul Reynolds said. “Both Cisco’s financial and knowledge resources will help us in our quest to innovate STEM curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels, where research suggests that quality STEM education should really begin.”

Alex Belous, Education Portfolio Manager for Cisco and the Cisco Foundation, observes, “We need to leverage the substantial body of research that is clearly pointing to stresses in our educational system at the early grades. If we want to foster more STEM studies and careers, then we need to invest in more creative ways that allow breakthrough transformation at earlier moments in a student’s academic experience.” He adds, “We are seeking to support programs which develop high-impact, replicable, scalable, and sustainable models of technology use to enhance student performance – the Fab@School initiative has significant potential to move the needle in elementary and middle schools.”  Belous was a co-founder of the Cisco Networking Academy® program, which now serves more than one million students in 165 countries each year, and co-chairman of STEM Innovation Task Forceat, a free resource that hosts and connects more than 3,000 entities and their STEM education initiatives.

As Reynolds Center’s Fab@School Designer Project Director Gary Goldberger notes, “The goal is to create engaging, easy-to-use software tools to introduce STEM to elementary school teachers and their students. “Making stuff” is appealing to kids and teachers."  He adds, “It’s easy to engage students with this kind of hands-on, project-based learning.” 

Poor U.S. student performance in science and mathematics is the impetus for the creation of the Fab@School Designer initiative. A 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology details the importance of STEM education in America's schools. The report reveals that students' science and math scores, as well as their level of interest in STEM fields, consistently place the U.S. in the middle of the pack or lower when compared to other countries. According to the council's report, many American students decide early that STEM subjects are boring, difficult, or unwelcoming, leaving them ill-prepared to meet the challenges that will they will face in the future.

Researchers have determined that one of the causes of this underperformance is alack of elementary school teachers who are comfortable teaching science and mathematics, and who lack effective curricula to engage students. Based on this research, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education team has launched a collaborative effort to address the problem by creating curricula, tools, a collaborative on-line space, and professional development support that make STEM education easier to embrace by elementary school teachers. Partners in the collaborative include: the Reynolds Center, Hofstra University, University of North Texas, UVA School of Engineering, and the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE).

The Reynolds Center joined forces with noted educator and educational software designer Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns to create the software needed to complete the full vision of the initiative. The Reynolds Center team is developing Fab@School Designer software, which “lowers the onramp” to STEM practice by introducing hands-on engineering and digital fabrication to teachers and young students in a way that is fun, easy, and intrinsically motivating.

Fab@School Designer helps teachers introduce engineering in the context of what they’re already doing in their classrooms. The software is motivating and easy to learn, and lets students design and create projects that integrate core skills and concepts in a framework that makes sense," Stearns explained. “Students collaborate, problem solve, evaluate and redesign as they learn the engineering process. As one student said so perfectly, 'You can actually do can see it and you can understand it!'"

Fab@School Designer allows students to design objects on a computer and then print cut-and-fold designs on standard paper printers or 2D fabricators. With appropriate 3D fabricators, Fab@School Designer will allow students to “print” physical objects. Fab@School Designer projects and curriculum support both rigorous mathematics standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, which give equal emphasis to scientific inquiry and engineering design.

In addition to the recent Cisco support, the Fab@School collaborative has won a host of grant awards for its curricular research and development of supporting digital fabrication resources, including MacArthur Foundation’s HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Award, National Science Foundation ITEST Grant, and Motorola Foundation Innovation Generation Award, as well as a U.S. Department of Education Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant, which helped build the preliminary prototype of the Fab@School Designer software.

Cisco’s initial grant will help fund the development of Fab@School Designer v1.0, including an assessment of the current prototype, finalization of specifications, and the production of an Alpha version via an iterative development process, which includes programming, graphic development, and quality assurance.

UVA will integrate the software into its pre-service teacher education courses, and the Albemarle County Public School District in Virginia will pilot the software. The Albemarle schools are also piloting the Fab@School curricular activities in elementary and middle school classrooms and with underrepresented populations. Another Fab@School partner, University of North Texas, is coordinating administration and interpretation of a STEM attitudes survey. While Fab@School Designer v1.0 is being rolled out as a commercial product, the Reynolds Center hopes to be developing v2.0, a full-featured 3D development environment for elementary and middle school classrooms.

“Digital fabrication is hot – especially in the midst of the 'maker' movement,” Goldberger said. “I have a feeling that Fab@School will continue to attract even more best-in-class “maker” partners who are ready to be part of something really big – a change in the way we teach STEM education that will produce the next generation of creative problem-solving engineers.” 

The Reynolds Center is seeking additional funding to support expanded development and evaluation of the full Fab@School Designer software toolset. Those interested in assisting the effort are encouraged to reach out to Gary Goldberger at  

About The Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity

Founded by internationally-acclaimed authors/educators/creativity champions Peter and Paul Reynolds, the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity, works with like-minded partners to develop and evaluate new media, tools, and initiatives that foster and scale authentic, engaged learning. The Reynolds Center also offers workshops, retreats, and professional development programs to nurture innovation and creativity in educators, school leaders, and their students.

About Cisco

Cisco is the worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow by proving that amazing things can happen when you connect the previously unconnected. Cisco supports nonprofits that are using Internet-based solutions to multiply their positive impact on people and communities, specifically solutions that help improve access to education, economic opportunity, and critical human needs.



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