Friday, July 10, 2020

Laser Cutters in the Classroom

I have long been a user of the paper cutting machines you see in craft stores. I have a Silhouette Cameo machine that I use for making cards and vinyl objects for decoration. It is so much fun!

I have been intrigued by the CO2 laser cutters/engravers which can cut or engrave cardboard, wood, leather, plastic, metal, acrylic, rubber, and glass up to a certain thickness.

THE FLUX BEAMO

FLUX, a CO2 laser cutter/engraver company, asked me to take one of their models for a spin and find resources to support their use in the K-12 environment.

The FLUX Beamo CO2 Laser Cutter & Engraver ($1899), seen below, is compact and has many of the features of the more expensive cutters on the market.

FLUX Beamo

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The Beamo can cut and/or engrave on various materials

   Cut and/or engrave      Engrave only 
  • Cardboard
  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Leather
  • Acrylic

  • Fabric
  • Rubber
  • Cement
  • Glass
  • Stone
  • Anode metal
  • Stainless steel      
 


                 Meet the FLUX Beamo


The FLUX Beamo includes software for designing and printing (Beam Studio), but  students can use many other design software programs like Autocad, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or any software that can export out as a JPG, PNG, SVG or DXF file.

Here are links to a few Beam Studio online tutorials: 1 | 2 | 3



The set-up of the FLUX Beamo was easy and the manual that came with it took me step-by-step through all the things I needed to do. The LCD panel was bright and easy to navigate. I attached the Beamo to the WiFi network in my home (you can also use Ethernet if you wish), downloaded the design software to my Mac, and updated the firmware in the Beamo via a USB drive. I also vented the Beamo out the window to avoid any fumes in the basement. (FLUX offers an Air Fume Extractor for the classroom so you would not need to vent it out a window.)

I used a 4.5" square piece of ⅛" wood and loaded a sample item, found in the Beam Studio software, to print. There is a camera in the Beamo that allows you to see, when in the software, where the item will be printed on your material. It took about 4 minutes for the Beamo to first engrave and then cut out the item.



Below is the finished product. And I went from unboxing to set-up to upgrading firmware to learning the software and to printing in about 1.5 hours! The learning curve was really small since the documentation was so well-done. 

Want to find out more? Here is the link to the Beamo Guide and Beam Studio Guide.


And my first project of my own design is below: 



USING BEAMO IN THE CLASSROOM

There are many online resources that include tons of great ideas for the use of a laser cutter to support the curriculum and school community. Following are overviews of the ones I thought were most helpful. 

Most resources target student use of laser cutters at the middle and high school levels. However, as we found out with 3D printers, students of all ages can create a design and the final product can be printed out by an adult. 

One very cool feature of the FLUX Beamo Go app (iOS and Android) is that a student can draw a design on paper, use a phone or iPad to take a picture of it, send it to the Beamo and print it out. This method easily allows students to create projects with the Beamo laser cutter!


RESOURCES


This 158-page handbook was compiled with ideas from many of the educational experts in the fields of constructing and creating. There are ideas for many constructivist projects using various tools. I did a search of the PDF for "laser". There was information on what students learn during both the design process and the machine cutting process, which included ratio, tools, unit, scale, and other math skills and also learning how a laser works. (10)

In another project, included by Susanna Tesconi, students go through the design thinking process, and, during the prototyping stage, if the laser-cut object needs to be re-worked, each student has a box where they put their "failures". At the end of the unit, students explain how their journey to success was helped by each of the prototypes. (36)

Heather Allen Pang outlines how she taught a unit on the history of telecommunications and had pairs of students create their own telegraph. She cut out the bases on the laser cutter, but students wired and tested their telegraphs. (79) 

Another project supplied by Pang is having students create silhouettes that are laser-cut. This project brings history and new technology together. (84)
 
Mark Schreiber has his high school students make an ugly Christmas sweater by using all types of materials, many of which include electronics for the sweaters to blink and play music. However, he has them use the laser cutter for cutting out the felt objects for the sweaters. (89)

There are many more ideas in this free book including parent and teacher collaboration. Make sure to download it! 

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Dremel has launched a page with 15 laser cutter projects to support Language Arts and Social Studies. Here is a sample from each discipline.
 
Book QuotesHave students choose their favorite quotes from their individual or class book and engrave them onto wood or acrylic to hang in the hallway or classroom. Go a step further and have students write an essay based on one of their classmates’ selected quotations. (ELA)
 
Culture Project: Have students design and laser cut a logo or flag for their invented cultures; create multi-dimensional topographical maps; laser engrave their hand-drawn maps on wood or cardboard. (SS)
 
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Although this guidebook for high school level students was put out by another laser cutter manufacturer, it includes the rationale you might need when asking for a laser cutter/engraver to be put in the budget.

This document includes ideas for both curriculum support projects and also ways in which the school can both save money (making plaques) and make money (selling school-themed keychains in the school store).

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Trotec, another laser cutter manufacturer, offers another great resource which would be applicable for middle and high school. This PDF includes categories which outline learning outcomes, instructional strategies, assessments, and additional learning resources for each of them. The categories are:
  • Personal and project management
  • Science and history
  • Materials
  • Supporting tools
  • Laser operation
  • Graphic essentials
  • Health and safety
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This site includes links to instructions for easy projects to have students create with a laser cutter.


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LASER CUTTERS AND STEM
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TOOLS TO USE

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    I hope I have supplied you with some great reasons and ideas to purchase a FLUX Beamo CO2 Laser Cutter & Engraver for your classroom, makerspace, or STEM lab. 

    With its small footprint, easy-to-use functions, and low cost, once you get one and start students creating projects to support the curriculum, raise money for a field trip, or make up the award plaques for the assembly, you will wonder why you did not purchase the Beamo sooner!