We chatted with Brandon Western, a middle school STEM teacher at a K-8 school in Central Florida, to learn about how he’s using Glowforge in his classroom to teach his students how to design, create and be innovative.
We can’t wait for you to get to know Glowfolk Brandon, so let’s jump in!
Brandon, thanks for chatting with Glowforge! Tell us about yourself, your role, and where you work.
I’ve been teaching at my current school for 9 years now, starting as a science teacher, and I’ve been the STEM teacher now for 4 years. My school is a K8 school, with students living nearby, and phenomenally supportive parents.
What do you love most about what you do?
I’m lucky enough to teach in a school and district that trust me to engage the students in meaningful learning, and challenge them in unique, creative ways. I have freedom to implement and try new tools and lessons, some of which crash and burn! But that’s the beauty of STEM, trying multiple versions and iterations of something until it (hopefully) works. My students are the reason I love what I do. They challenge me daily, making sure that I truly know what I’m talking about and their thirst for knowledge drives me to find new ways to inspire them.
How did you first learn about Glowforge, and why did you decide to get a Glowforge for your school?
My classes are full of 25-30+ eager students each class period. This means that 3D printing or using X-ACTO knives to create students’ designs and ideas can be quite time-consuming (and dangerous). Having the ability to bring students’ designs to life in a fraction of the time was only a dream. I’ve been following Glowforge and their story since it was first announced as a future product. It seemed too good to be true.
Hobby laser cutters up until this point seemed clunky, and the learning curve and software was truly daunting and not user friendly. Ordering the Glowforge was the next step in taking our makerspace and engineering classes to a level we never thought possible. For every student, not just a handful of them, limited by time.
Tell us about the makerspace in your school. How do you use your Glowforge and other machines with your students?
I started a makerspace at our school for middle school students to learn how to design, create, and be innovative. We try to work on many different making/breaking projects, from 3D modeled (and 3D printed!) jack-o-lanterns, holiday seasonal ornaments using circuits and LEDs, to learning how to solder/desolder old electronics. We’ve learned basic woodworking skills and have made putt-putt golf courses. Now that we have a Glowforge, we are going to start working on laser cut light boxes, typically seen on paper light boxes, and project cases for different electronics.
We’ve barely even scratched the surface with what we want to do.
What are the key lessons you’re looking to instill with your students through STEM?
If you ask any of my students one of the best/worst things they hear me say, it’s “I don’t know…can it?” or “problem-solve!” At first they thought I was being lazy, but as they experience it more, I’m teaching them the way to figure things out on their own. By the time students get to STEM, one of the main real-life tasks I feel they need, is the ability to be a problem-solver without extra help.
My job as their STEM teacher is to open the door to their learning, and to guide them as they stumble through real-world skills.
Tell us about one of the classes you taught that involved your Glowforge.
One of my classes that I teach is an introduction into engineering course, which teaches students how to begin designing and creating different projects and inventions. Last year, one of our projects was designing a marble maze using specific measurements and requirements. This used to be a tedious and dangerous project, as students were getting small cuts and poked using X-ACTO knives. After teaching the students how to design with the Glowforge in mind, they were able to have their precise designs cut out in far less time, and far fewer cuts!
What’s the thing you created you’re most proud of?
It’s a secret! The thing I’m most proud of is taking a students’ already created artwork and giving them an opportunity to have it memorialized on a piece of wood or acrylic. Seeing their hand drawn artwork engraved on something permanent is so exciting to them.
Tell us the most amazing thing your students have done (so far!) with your Glowforge.
We have designed simple pull-toys, desk and hobby organizers, marble mazes, project boxes, drone club badges, signs for businesses, nametags…and the list goes on. We were able to start and make all of those within just 2-3 months at the end of last school year.
What software are your students using to make designs?
My students start by using free software such as Tinkercad.com and Fusion 360. Both tools have 3D modeling in mind, but with a few clicks, we have found how to transfer those designs directly into our Glowforge! For my other artistic students, we have been using Inkscape to develop our designs. This year, our digital art teacher will begin teaching students how to use Adobe Illustrator, and my students will help laser cut them out.
Besides printing with students, have you found other uses for your Glowforge at your school?
This is what I’m most excited about. I’m so happy and proud to have our Glowforge in our STEM classroom, but that is just the beginning. We have a school store, and students are now designing trinkets and small creations to sell in our school store. We have also already replaced our school podium with our new logo, cut out of a great piece of Proofgrade Maple! This year, we will also be creating wooden picture frames for other classrooms with each student’s unique signature along the frame.
What advice do you have for teachers who are considering bringing in Glowforge or other STEM/STEAM technologies into their classroom?
It’s all about taking a leap. I had ZERO experience with a laser cutter prior to our Glowforge and have taken to it like a duck to water. There’s an amazing Glowforge community on social media that can answer and guide you through almost any question that you have. I’m by no means an expert, but I love answering questions; feel free to contact me with questions.
We got our Glowforge with a few projects in mind, but since using it, both my students and I have come up with a seemingly endless amount of ideas for new things to create.