Funding & Support for Digital Fabrication

As you make your case for adding digital fabrication technology to your school, this background material and list of resources may be of value to you and your colleagues:

  • Where Things Are Headed: An Overview of Digital Fabrication & Education
  • Funding Opportunities: Useful Links to Funding Sources
  • Talking Points: Your Support for Making the Case

Where Things Are Headed: Useful Background Information about Digital Fabrication Technology and Education

Digital fabrication tools are becoming a focus for new types of technology training in educational settings.  As the traditional model of vocational training has waned, many school systems are adapting with newer technologies.  Along with the newer technology comes a training model that provides learning experience that readies students for advanced, well-paying positions and that teaches about growing and adjusting to new technology rather than just acquiring rote skills for individual machines or specific production processes.

There are now opportunities to provide students with training in emerging areas that are increasingly the standards for manufacturing,  production, and service in our global competitive world.  Students exposed to these new technologies can enter the field with knowledge that allows them to begin their careers with positions, not just jobs.
Traditional trades such as furniture making, cabinet building, construction, boat building, metal working, mold making, sign building, etc. are all making the transition to computerized machinery.  As competition from abroad threatens many “old school” businesses, there will be a tremendous need for trained CNC operators and programmers in the next decade and beyond.  This means a student can now enter a shop and command not only a better position, but a better salary.

One of the major factors that supports this shift is that students today, from early ages, are knowledgeable and comfortable with computers and their many uses.  They have used them in school for years, as well as at home.  This familiarity with computers has made the introduction of CAD/CAM software much easier, and more importantly it has given them a set of skills that are often superior to those of the established professionals in many of the industries they are entering.  They are very comfortable with using computers to do things and make things, and with the relationship between a software control system, a file of instructions and a physical tool.  These students can now move into industry and instead of becoming a “gopher” performing basic - often menial - dead-end services, they can enter a shop or factory with the knowledge to perform tasks their employers have yet to master.  This in turn opens new career paths which make them much more employable, and valuable as employees.

Integrating Technology
Schools have the challenge of providing their students with real-world training, and this can be done via inter-departmental co-operation.  For example, the computer classes work on the development of skills using CAD drawing programs.  These skills can be used in art, theatre and business coursework. Vocational and technical departments provide projects and CNC machinery to realize designs in real world products and test skills with hands-on applications.  Depending on the orientation of the staff, practical projects can be arranged that not only provide students further experience, but provide services and support within the school system or community because this CNC technology will do real work.  Here are some examples;

  • Every district has the need for hundreds of signs, and these can be done in house.  This not only saves a district considerable amounts of money, it also gives a realistic job experience to the students. 
  • Art departments can incorporate design work into the signmaking and help get students more comfortable with hands-on work.
  • Similar projects can be done to construct school furniture such as shelving and storage for classrooms and offices.
  • Theatre departments can use CNC in producing sets and props. 
  • Business and economics can be taught via a simulated small business course that involves production and sale of real products.

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Funding Opportunities for STEM and other technology-related efforts

Here are some organizations that provide grants and awards for educational initiatives such as the purchase of digital fabrication equipment. They are for schools as well as community-based projects. We encourage you to explore these opportunities, and do your own web research to find other possible sources of funds.

  • Wells Fargo Bank is making charitable grants available to schools and other non-profit organizations. Learn about these opportunities from Wells Fargo.
  • Learn about Toyota TAPESTRY grants from Toyota and the National Science Teachers Association.
  • Learn more about opportunities through the US Department of Education
  • Northrup Grumman is focusing on providing aid to STEM-related education at the college level.
  • Grant opportunities are available via Technology Grant News
  • Federal grant information can be found at Grants.gov and at ED Technology Grants
  • A listing of education-related grants can be found at Grant Wrangler
  • ITEEA (The International Technology and Engineering Educators Association)
  • Toshiba America Foundation (Grants)
  • Toshiba Exploravision Awards (Grants)
  • Century Link grants for K-12 with a focus on technology
  • Disney/ABC/ESPN offer grants to schools/non-profits
  • Christopher Columbus Awards for community-based projects
  • The American Honda Foundation

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Talking Points: Building Your Case for Digital Fabrication Equipment

These support points are provided by technology educators from around the country who have implemented ShopBot Tools with great success. These thoughts can help you make your case for adding digital fabrication technology. The list of points was prepared with the purchase of ShopBots in mind; however, you'll see that the points offered are relevant to many tools and methods of digital fabrication. We should emphasize the importance of personalizing your funding request/proposal to reflect the uniqueness of your school system and its needs.

  1. Using digital fabrication tools in the classroom is motivating! By making fun, engaging projects, students learn that they can be effective problem solvers.
  2. Using a ShopBot or other digital fabrication tool brings principles of algebra and geometry to vivid life; teachers have reported that it helps to improve their students' standardized math test scores.
  3. Beyond the hardware, the resources of 100kSchools.org are also available to help educators and their students gain the most benefit from digital fabrication.
  4. Collegial atmosphere is supported via the Forum at 100kSchools.org, as well as the ShopBot Forum where you can learn from other teachers, sharing tips and advice.
  5. Using the ShopBot in class allows you to meet state curriculum standards from around the country.
  6. Incorporating digital fabrication enables you to teach the CAD/CAM skills that are being used now in manufacturing; it gives those kids who are interested a 'leg up' in industry, as ShopBots are the same tools found in production.
  7. ShopBots are being incorporated by teachers using the Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum (as well as other STEM curricula), for much less of a financial investment than other CNC milling equipment.
  8. Easy to use and reconfigure, ShopBots are highly versatile digital fabrication tools: use them in the wood shop, the technology classroom, the art studio and the theater department for set and prop building. ShopBots provide many opportunities for co-teaching among technology and math teachers, for example.
  9. There are scores of uses of the ShopBot for school fundraising efforts: students can make plaques, trophies and other mementos for athletics, drama and math clubs, raising money to pay for school and community programming.
  10. ShopBot has created affordable Educational Hardware Packages, and also offers free grant application reviews to help you secure the funds for purchase.

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