Fab Lab

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PCS Edventures’ high-tech learning space for young people in Boise has a 3-D printer, a “PCS Brain,” building manipulatives, and much more. A new Lab is soon to open in Eagle.

By Laura Wolstenholme
Photography by Tia Crabtree

Discovering PCS Edventures has been like finding a gold nugget in your own backyard. The company began here 25 years ago, is publically traded, its products are used internationally and in all 50 states at over 6000 sites. Yet it’s thrived just outside local consciousness. CEO, Robert Grover, acknowledges that more people outside of Idaho know of his company than inside. Since the company’s beginning in the 1980s, he adds, PCS has gone through several iterations. It’s beginning, however, perfectly expresses the company’s purpose and vision.

What sparked PCS Edventures to life in 1986 was a teacher’s discontent with the status quo in local schools. Patrick McShane, discouraged by the lack of robotics and real, hands-on building and designing for curious, technology-bent students motivated him to open his home garage in Nampa for an after-school program. PCS or “Patrick’s Computer School” burgeoned, drawing many students and volunteers. The school soon transferred to a larger site at a local business complex, then to Northwest Nazarene University.  An investor group, believing the program could be franchised, gave seed money. A Boise Lab was opened, and the business began to grow.

DSC_0139-smallPCS Edventures evolved, and today has three outreaches, or “buckets” as Grover describes them: STEM educational products that help young people explore and create; the afterschool program that is a creative Lab environment; and creating customized international programs.

PCS’s educational products are a well-developed outreach. A look at PCS’s on-line retail catalogue shows dozens and dozens of building kits, and programs and systems designed around manipulatives such as LEGO and fischertechnik. “We were designing STEM and STEAM (includes art) products long before they became buzz words,” says Grover. The products are marketed and used in institutions such as schools, Boys and Girls clubs, and YMCAs across the country.

Another bucket is the revival of their successful afterschool program EdventuresLab as first created by Pat McShane. The pilot program opened in 2012 with 20 students and the first EdventuresLab off ParkCenter has 120 students and growing. Meeting weekly after school for 75 minutes, students create, build and design, learning robotics, video production, video game development and programming. “What 12 year old boy wouldn’t want to build his own video game?” asks Caitlin Donnelly, Director of Operations for PCS EdventuresLab. Though challenges are offered at every lab, the emphasis is on personal progress through experimentation and trial and error.

Special themes occur monthly. October’s aptly named zombie month inspired students on teams to create their coolest, baddest zombies. That’s when the Lab’s 3-D printer helped students execute their wildest plans, allowing them to design and create 3-dimensional body parts. For example, a student successfully created ribs for his skeleton zombie using the 3-D printer.

The 3-D printer also works well to learn robotics—students can design and make original robots or add new parts to existing robotic systems such as fischertechnik. Such learning is a bridge to the future. Grover says “Robotics as an industry is exploding, it’s a probably one of the fastest growing industries on the planet, with robotics in every field—agriculture, medicine, communications—so a lot of things we teach kids here are literally skills for the future.”

The Lab powerfully merges PCS’s original purpose of giving children creative building opportunities, and their cutting-edge educational products. The latest? It’s what Grover calls “the PCS Brain,” a specialized apparatus or microcontroller that children can program to run motors and sensors on their robots.  Grover says “everyone should have a brain,” and he wants the PCS Brain to become a household name.

A new Lab, opening in Eagle, will soon double the number of young people enjoying the challenge and thrill of PCS learning. There’s a way to go, but it’s likely that soon as many people in Idaho will know about PCS Edventures as out of it.

PCS Edventures is for young people 9-17 years old. Check http://www.edventureslab.com for classes and camps.

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