Ponoko helps you build your idea: personal factory online
Matt Jones' latest 'make' caught my eye: a shipping forecast rosary. I think it's more the nostalgia of finishing my dinner as a child listening to the exotic and far-flung-sounding German Bight and Fastnet, than any Catholic connotations, but it's also how he created it.
Ponoko allows you to submit your design idea and then, choosing from a wide range of beautiful materials and laser etching options, you can have it quoted, built, posted back to you doublequick. It's beautiful, allowing mere mortals like me to have our ideas made. It's CafePress for making things, as mum puts it.
For schools, I think there's something interesting in allowing that prototyping stage to be sped up. All too often, in the areas where we get closest to student-driven learning where we learn by making things, there is no time, space or money for prototyping several times before making the final product. In Craft, Design and Technology classes we prototype in isolation, theoretically, but then the learning we get from uncovering the real object is lost.
I don't think Ponoko is necessarily the answer, but I do love the speed element and the community of makers they're building up to help transform ideas into workable product. There's got to be a learning oportunity in there.