University to host HS teachers at WiFab Retreat West, June 25-29

University to host HS teachers at WiFab Retreat West, June 25-29

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Breanne Kanak, who teaches art and design in the White Lake School District, learned a lot about failure last summer during the Discovery Center WiFab Retreat at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

She loved every minute of it.

“We had to design, iterate, trash and finalize our projects and challenges,” Kanak said. “Every day there were moments that were humbling, frustrating, empowering and even inspiring. It was just like teaching; except this time, we were the students, in all our anger and glory.”

Kanak participated with Kate Lowery, who teaches second and third grades at White Lake.

“We were being challenged to approach and analyze knowledge what was abstract and sometimes just difficult to grasp,” Kanak said. “The instructors and fellow teachers at the retreat provided us with different viewpoints from their own experiences, possible solutions and encouraging words when we were at our lowest. That is something we have to teach students and provide to those we teach, encouragement and directions to solutions, not just given answers and nondifferentiated instruction.”

UW-Stout again will host the annual WiFab Retreat West, a five-day immersion in design and digital fabrication for teachers, Monday, June 25, through Friday, June 29. Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton will host WiFab Retreat East Monday, July 23, through Friday, July 27. This is the first year for the east side retreat. For more information on the retreats, visit

Ken Welty, a UW-Stout School of Education professor, teaches the retreats with Steve Meyer, manager of STEM education and development at Fox Valley Technical College and president of the Wisconsin Technology Education Association, and Laurence Charlier, Fab Lab director at Northwestern High School and a technology and engineering teacher.

Welty said there was a need for another retreat because of growing numbers and to make it more convenient to eastern Wisconsin teachers.

Meyer said there is a lot of excitement about having WiFab Retreat East. “In northeast Wisconsin we have a lot of business, industry and manufacturers looking for people who have these types of skills.”

Student engagement ‘comes alive’

Chancellor Bob Meyer said student engagement “comes alive” when schools use design thinking.

“This professional development retreat focuses on challenging students to imagine solutions to problems and to make their solutions come alive leveraging Fab Lab tools,” he said. “UW-Stout is proud to partner with Fox Valley Technical College in developing and delivering this unique, top-quality Fab Lab professional development to Wisconsin’s K-12 educators.”

The goal is to help teachers not only how to learn to use Fab Lab equipment but to have meaningful instruction for their students that enhances education. “What we’re offering is the STEM curriculum and how to use the resources in the school to support and enrich STEM education,” Welty said.

Teachers will be designing a device to organize and protect ear buds, which they in turn will teach their students about, Welty said. “There isn’t a clear-cut design,” he said. “Even when they come up with a design it won’t be perfect. There is no perfect design. They will have to learn about tradeoffs.”

The retreat helps teachers learn about STEM content and they help their students, Steve Meyer said. “One of my major goals is to show and teach teachers how business and industry use the design process to come up with new products,” he said.

He is excited about the collaboration with UW-Stout and teachers. “By partnering we can bring an initiative to our students and teachers and the business and industry we help support,” he said.

Projects call for analysis, brainstorming, modeling, coding fabricating, testing, presenting and more. Participants leave the workshop with working prototypes, instructional materials and teaching strategies.

Focusing on simple problems makes it easy to uncover and target age-appropriate science, technology, engineering and math concepts and skills.

“Using the design process, students learn teamwork, problem solving skills and the ability to weigh ideas; all things we hear employers want and need from their employees,” said Randy Hulke, Discovery Center director.

Amazing experiences at retreat

Mark Westlake attended the retreat last summer and recommends it to other educators. “I had an amazing experience,” he said.

“The teachers at UW-Stout quickly gave me the framework I needed to feel comfortable in my new role,” Westlake said. “Their ‘try-it’ style of instruction allowed me to assimilate to the equipment right away and gave me focus when working through curricular questions.”

Kanak thought the retreat was a great way to introduce educators to fab lab equipment, processing, funding and implementation into schools.

“I am personally more actively pursuing design thinking and problem-based learning in nearly all of my art classes throughout the grade levels,” Kanak said. “Art is a subject wherein the brain is constantly weighing decisions, taking risks and solving problems. I am communicating that process to my students and the importance of failure paired with perseverance. I have seen great strides in my students’ understanding of complex artistic concepts as the year has progressed.”

UW-Stout developed Fab Lab schools web portal

UW-Stout’s Discovery Center Fab Lab was founded in 2013 with the assistance of a multiyear $520,000 Growth Agenda award from the UW System. It features digital fabrication machines that are programmed through computer software.

In May, Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Mark Hogan and UW System President Ray Cross announced more than $500,000 in grants to establish or expand local fabrication laboratory facilities at 22 public schools across the state.

WEDC has developed a Fab Labs resource page for its website that provides districts with information and a video on how to set up, equip and implement best practices. Content was provided by UW-Stout and Gateway Technical College.

In addition, UW-Stout, with funding from WEDC, has developed a web portal,, that allows Fab Lab schools to communicate with one another on issues such as curriculum development and implementation, equipment usage and training. Districts also may request technical assistance.


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