Figure 1. Assembled 3D model of Abraham Lincoln, made from laser-cut taskboard. Source: Epilog Laser

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Schools across the country are faced with integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into their curriculum. That can be a daunting task. For teachers committed to hands-on, experiential learning, introducing a laser cutter into the classroom can make STEM lessons fun and much more accessible than learning from textbooks alone. Laser cutters and engravers bring lessons alive; educators know that when students make connections between the concepts in the classroom and concepts in the real world, more parts of their brains are activated and the knowledge gained through hands-on activity more easily transfers to long-term memory. Laser cutters are investments for schools. To take full advantage of the machinery it is practical to keep costs down per project so more projects can be accommodated. The following are three budget-savvy projects that can easily be adapted to fit into a middle school curriculum.


Using felt cut-outs of organs, students learn about human anatomy. Felt squares are inexpensive and come in a variety of colors. Students create the pattern of each organ and cut them using the laser cutting machine. Each organ is cut from a different color of felt so they can be identified more readily, but students may also want to label them. The organs can then be placed on a felt board on which students have drawn the outline of a body. The felt pieces adhere easily to the felt board; however, they could be attached more securely by simply adding hook-and-loop fasteners to the body and organs.


Students make their own airplanes using balsa wood and learn about flight. Balsa wood is extremely versatile as well as affordable. It’s the go-to material for building model airplanes, so creating flyable planes that are twice as large as those found in a toy store is an exciting project for students. The material list includes balsa wood that is 0.09375 by 4.0 by 36.0 in. for the wings, a 0.5 by 0.5 by 36.0 in. piece of wood for the body as well as a weight (such as a binder clip) for the nose. Students can download patterns from the internet, or try to create their own after taking a tutorial on the necessary qualities to make an airplane that is flight-ready.

3D Model Design

Using corrugated cardboard and third-party 3D-modeling software students can take their two-dimensional images or designs and transform them into 3D models. Modeling software, such as Fusion 360™ from Autodesk®, allows students to turn images into numbered “slices,” which are then cut by the laser. Users simply slide the slices over a center dowel rod support and the image on the screen is now a 3D piece.

For classes on even tighter budgets, nearly any type of clean cardboard packaging can be used – cereal boxes, discarded shipping boxes, even pizza boxes!

Laser cutters and engravers can play an important role in encouraging interest in STEM by providing an easy way to integrate hands-on learning within the classroom. Teachers can easily incorporate projects that “come to life” — and can demonstrate that learning can be engaging without breaking the budget.

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