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Grant fuels mobile fab lab in Fox Chapel

Tawnya Panizzi
| Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Deniko Agurs and Evan Skvarla, second-grade students from Kerr Elementary, work on a project last year at the Fox Chapel Area High School Fab Lab.
Deniko Agurs and Evan Skvarla, second-grade students from Kerr Elementary, work on a project last year at the Fox Chapel Area High School Fab Lab.

Fox Chapel Area teacher Justin Papariello is hitting the road this spring with a mobile fabrication lab he hopes will spark interest in technology in younger students.

“We will literally roll into a parking lot and set up a classroom with tables, tents and laptops,” Papariello said of a roving lab to be built by his high school engineering students.

The district received a $60,000 grant from the Grable Foundation to build and design the fab lab — a workshop with technological tools to design and build things. The lab will be inside a prefabricated tiny house on wheels.

“We think the district is the first to put a fab lab in a tiny house,” Papariello said.

The house will come with the framing, walls and roof, but the students will do everything else, including siding and electrical wiring. That means creating unique solutions for using the small space in the house. For example, Papariello said they'll build a table that can be converted into a chair or a desk.

“This is known as an authentic learning experience,” he said.

Students will equip the lab with 3-D printers, Computer Numeric Control machining tools, laser engravers, vinyl cutters, computers and other tech equipment. The goal is to wheel the fab lab to the district's four elementary schools and others in the region. Lessons will be geared toward students who would not typically have access to a fab lab.

The mobile unit is modeled after the fab lab opened in the spring of 2016 at the high school.

Grable, a Pittsburgh-based foundation that seeks to improve educational opportunities for school students, is also providing funding for three high school students to travel with the fab lab to teach hands-on lessons.

Led by Megan Cicconi, director of instructional and innovative leadership, the lab will infuse science, technology, engineering, art and math into its curriculum.

“Students who participate in the fab lab experience will make a product that requires them to utilize problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills related to the math and science standards,” Cicconi said.

Project examples include a laser-engraved box, tool box, vinyl stickers and wooden name tags.

Superintendent Gene Freeman said the district authored the grant application to impact its students and those in neighboring communities.

“We are better together,” Freeman said. “We look forward to a unique collaboration as we provide opportunities for elementary students to participate in digital fabrication.”

Papariello said the mobile lab will be ready to go by May.

The district has also been asked to present the lab at the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in June.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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