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Case Study : Lennox Public Schools

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Looking to prepare students for STEAM careers, a Los Angeles school district is using a laser machine to create hands-on experiences and foster real-world problem-solving skills.

From Abstract to Understanding

When a seventh-grade girl uses a laser to build a full-size piece of furniture, science suddenly doesn’t seem quite so abstract to her. And when sixth graders use a laser to engrave school award plaques, geometry starts to become relevant—even fun. That’s exactly the point behind a new hands-on engineering initiative at Lennox Public Schools, a Los Angeles-area district that uses an AP Lazer Machine, 3D printers, and other tools to provide students with the real-world experience of STEAM in action. “Lennox understands that education needs to be practical versus academic,” said David Strickler, president of AP Lazer, which provided Lennox with its SN4024 laser machine. “Math and science are very academic, and you have to find different ways to show how they can be applied in the real world.”

students using laser

“Lennox understands that education needs to be practical versus academic,” said David Strickler, president of AP Lazer, which provided Lennox with its SN4024 laser machine. “Math and science are very academic, and you have to find different ways to show how they can be applied in the real world.”

New Ways to Teach STEAM

Finding new ways to teach STEAM subjects is particularly important at Lennox, a low-income district (96 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches) surrounded by aerospace giants such as SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. “We’re trying to give students the best possible path to success, and STEAM programs seem key to that,” said Alejandro Hernandez, an engineer at Lennox. “Seeing the kinds of jobs that are available here, it’s pretty clear we need to prepare our students to go into those fields.”

laser cut settlers of catan game
To accomplish this goal, Lennox has created a school of engineering inside its middle school. The new school, which launched last August, involves roughly a third of students in Grades 6 and 7, with plans to expand to Grade 8 next year. The school is staffed by four science teachers, four math teachers, and four social studies teachers. “Students cover the normal curriculum, but with a greater emphasis on project-based learning,” said Hernandez. “The engineering lab itself is structured as an elective that is paired with the science classes. It’s like a lab and a lecture in a college-level class.”

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Project-Based Learning Approach

The concept of project-based learning lies at the heart of the school’s approach. To prepare themselves for this style of teaching, faculty attended training at the Buck Institute for Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the use of PBL in K-12 schools. AP Lazer provided on-site training on the use of the laser machine.

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“Every customer needs training on how to run the machine, whether at basic or advanced levels, and across different applications,” said Strickler. “We focus mainly on video training—segments of 10-15 minutes—because it’s the easiest way to communicate technical topics.” 24/7 technical phone support, an online learning portal, and a three-year warranty also come with the machine.

Developing a Curriculum

Curriculum development for the laser machine is still in its early days, but Lennox plans to build its lessons around the engineering design process, analogous to the scientific method. “Our goal is for students to be able to identify real problems in their lives or in the community and use tools like the laser machine to solve those problems,” said Hernandez. “The laser machine and the 3D printers aren’t goals in themselves, but tools for other things. We’re really trying to teach students to solve problems for themselves.”

laser cut deer
In the first part of the curriculum, students will learn the workflow needed to design simple two-dimensional products, such as engraved awards for the local science fair, using open-source software known as Inkscape. In the next step, students will transition to 3D CAD design. Lennox students already used Autodesk Inventor software in a 3D printing project earlier in the year. In this phase, they will apply what they learned to the laser machine.

“There’s a good degree of familiarity with Autodesk Inventor,” said Hernandez. “But I anticipate that it’ll take one to two weeks to uncover the differences between designing for a 3D printer and designing for a laser machine.”

Simple CAD Projects

For students without prior experience with 3D CAD, Strickler encourages schools to have them practice on existing models first. “The easiest thing to do with CAD is to import an existing 3D model and manipulate it,” he said, referring to free designs that are often available for download on vendor sites. “A student’s first project in CAD should be playing around with an existing model, resizing it, and then rendering it in physical form.”

laser cut 3d cubes
In making the transition from designing for 3D printers to laser machines, Lennox students must first learn how to create the joints needed to assemble flat pieces into three-dimensional objects. “We’re going to have students design some kind of container—perhaps a box where they can store their school supplies,” said Hernandez. “Once those skills are acquired, we’re going to open it up a little bit more.”

Setting Goals

The year-end goal is to have each student use the laser to make a full-size piece of furniture, such as a chair or table. First, students will prototype their designs by using the laser to cut cardboard sheets. Once the design is finalized, they will cut the full-size pieces from plywood sheets for assembly into the finished product. “We hope that students will be able to take their furniture home, or maybe we can even use their pieces in the school,” said Hernandez. “Most students are extremely excited about it.”

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laser machines for education

AP Lazer: The Ultimate STEAM Machine

laser machines for educationWhat do laser machines have to do with STEAM?

An essential part of how innovation arises from STEAM-based projects is the process of “making”. Making is simply hands-on creation – building a scale model or prototype, for instance – and much of it happens in “makerspaces” or “Fab Labs” (short for fabrication). Makerspaces are today’s new technology workshops guided by STEAM principles. In nearly every makerspace, you’re bound to find at least a 3D printer and vinyl cutter, maybe some Arduino or Little Bits kits, and – if you’re lucky – the ultimate STEAM tool: a laser machine.

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With the ability to cut or engrave nearly any material, laser machines are truly the greatest STEAM tool on the market. But don’t take just our word for it. In an article for MakeZine.com, California high school math teacher and “Maker Educator” Casey Shea wrote, “If money were no object, the laser cutter would be my No. 1 tool, as it is perhaps the most versatile tool that I have ever used.”

In an article from 2009, by Mike Dean for SouthEast Education Network, laser machines got rave reviews from both administrators and students. Now you know it has to be good if both teenagers and their authority figures can agree on it.

Dark Steel Robotics, a student robotics team at the Academy of Engineering and Design Technology, found their laser machine to be crucial for their work – using it to create prototypes, cut out “numerous complex components”, and add logos to their robots.

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Club president Bryan Uber told Dean, “We use the system for a variety of applications — the machine is necessary for so many of the projects we do.” Regarding placing first in the Boston University Design Challenge, Uber said, “The laser engraver was an invaluable tool during this project.” 

students with laser machineAdministrators from the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center in Hancock County, West Virginia also had glowing remarks about their laser machine. Instructor of building construction Steve Shannon told Dean the following.

The students are all very eager to learn to use the laser. Not only are they intrigued by how it works, but they also realize the many opportunities that a laser machine opens for them out in the world. Some of them see it and immediately think of how to start a small business using it, while some see it as a useful tool for existing enterprises.”

George Danford, director of the Career Center, told Dean:

“The number of things we could find to use this machine for are countless!

There isn’t a program offered today which hasn’t been changed with the incorporation of technology. This is why we selected a laser engraving system, and it has definitely improved our curriculum.”

Alright, I’m convinced. How can I get a laser machine?

Whether you’re looking to add a laser machine to your school or want to start a community makerspace, the first step of purchasing a laser machine is choosing the right one. We offer five models at AP Lazer, which you can easily compare using this handy matrix.

While the upfront costs of purchasing a laser machine can be difficult to navigate on a school budget, know that with this technology, you get what you pay for, and AP Lazer offers the best technology on the market.

Take for instance young entrepreneur Nurul Syazninabila Mohd Ghazali (aka Nabila). According to Cuts Studio: Laser cutting made cool by Lydia Koh, when Nabila first started her laser cutting and woodworking business, she went with a cheaper machine. It ended up breaking. In six months. Don’t make the same mistake as Nabila and invest in an AP Lazer machine from the start.

With STEAM momentum only continuing to build, some teachers are finding success in grant writing to fund their Fab Labs. And if that doesn’t work, take a page from Shea’s book and show your school how much money they could save by having a laser machine. From no longer needing to outsource campus signage, to easily customizing whiteboards for specific lessons, your school will only find more and more ways for your AP Lazer machine to save money.

Why choose an AP Lazer machine?

As a result of revolutionary engineering by founder Tong Li, AP Lazer machines offer exceptional performance, stability, and efficiency that you won’t find elsewhere. Our technology lasts longer and cuts two times faster than competitors. Our unprecedented open architecture design allows you to engrave items of any size. Look here to see what other features make the AP Lazer difference.

Not only are our machines outstanding, but we also offer the best in customer service. Between set-up assistance, video tutorials, AP Lazer University, and 24/7 phone tech support, we’ll answer all questions and solve any problems.


education discount for laser machineLaser engraving business starter package

Oh, and did we mention, educators get a 10% discount with AP Lazer?

So what are you waiting for?! Contact us today to find out how you can get your hands on an AP Lazer machine.

Additional Links and Resources:
STEM to STEAM
STEAM Education
Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”
Pivot Point: At the Crossroads of STEM, STEAM and Arts Integration
STEAM Funding Endorsed BY NEA
STEAM Ahead: Merging Arts and Science Education
Gaining STEAM: Teaching Science Through Art

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