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Teachers Use 3D Printers To Interest Students In STEM Fields

Ten Indiana schools are receiving 3D printers in an effort to interest students in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

3D Printing

Photo: Bill Shaw

3-D printing is being introduced to ten Indiana schools.

Some Indiana teachers are hoping a new program using 3D printing will encourage students to enter the science technology engineering and math or STEM fields.

With a grant from TechPoint Foundation for Youth, 3D Parts Manufacturing is putting small 3D printers in ten schools across the state as part of a project they’re calling Masters of the Universe.

Kim Brand, the president of 3D Parts Manufacturing, says that the first step in this innovative technology is to create a computer design, which then acts as a blue-print.

“We basically take a 3D model and we slice it up into multiple layers and we deposit the melted, extruded plastic, in this case, we’re using ABS, the same material they use to make Legos,” Brand says.

In just a few hours, the molten material is printed into a useable product, which can range from medical tools to airplane parts. Brand calls this a fascinating process to watch and hopes it will spark students’ interest in the engineering field.

One of the first teachers to get a printer, John Davis, says his students at Creekside Middle School in Carmel pounced on the printer as soon as it was delivered earlier this year.

“The questions just kept coming and coming,” he says. “It was like opening a box and there was a glow inside, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to peek in.”

Davis’ goal—and the goal of the Masters of the Universe initiative—is to use 3D printing to interest students in technology fields as part of a nationwide effort to align career paths to the economy’s demands.

And, it’s working.

“We see application to connections to so much of the learning they’re doing, not just here elsewhere in tech ed but elsewhere in the building,” Davis says. “The students were fascinated by the fact that it operates on the same X, Y and Z coordinates that they use in math class.”

Only a handful of teachers have gotten to use their printers. Many more plan to get projects off the ground once the new school year starts.

3D Parts Manufacturing has supplied teachers with a book of lesson plans they can use alongside their existing curriculum.

But first, teachers have to learn how to use the new devices.

Teachers Learn How To Teach With 3D Printers

On a recent day at IUPUI in Indianapolis, the teachers have become students. This is one of several workshops being held this summer that shows teachers how to use 3D printers.

In these sample projects, students use concepts culled from geometry and computer science to create a computer model that’s then fed into the printer.

Designs include toys, gears and small toy animals.

While all the teachers at this training are learning the same thing, when they go back to their schools, they’ll come up with ways to make the printers and the projects they’re used for, their own.

“Our upper elementary has already been doing a number of engineering projects tied to science and math. This was must a way to take it to the next step,” says North Daviess Community Schools technology coordinator Todd Whitlock.

North Daviess is a rural school district with a large Amish population, and Whitlock hopes the 3D printing technology will provide some engineering know-how before many students leave for religious reasons after the eighth grade.

“We have a number of people in our community that build the pole barns, build the houses, and so forth,” he says. “This is another way for them to understand that concepts they can apply later in life.”

Whitlock ultimately wants students to apply the skills they learn to a life-long career, ut even if they don’t, he says the experience is valuable.

“We all want the same thing for kids, and that is to expose them to new opportunities,” he says. “This is a perfect example that lets us do that.”

The program is still fairly limited in scope but Brand is considering expansion after receiving positive feedback.

Sarah Fentem

Sarah Fentem is a reporter and producer for WFIU/WTIU News. She is currently completing her master's degree in journalism at Indiana University. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic and the Chicago Tribune.

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