Monday, April 18, 2016

3D Printing in Minnetonka Schools

Fourth grade student created substitute teacher robot of the future.
During our Annual District Tours last month, visitors had the opportunity to see student created designs printed on 3D printers at both Groveland Elementary School and Minnetonka High School. We have 3D printers at other sites as well; they are used in our eighth grade advanced robotics courses and at Clear Springs Elementary School. 3D printing manufacturers were a major presence at this year's CES Conference which I attended where there was everything from printed food to a printed motorcycle on display. There will undoubtedly be more 3D printers in schools in the future.

After learning about 3D printers at the annual Minnesota TIES Technology Conference in December 2014, principal Dave Parker met with Media Specialist Colleen Small and put together a plan to begin researching and secure funding for a 3D printer at their school. Colleen wanted an enclosed printer that would keep fingers out during the printing process, so she began a trial period with a Stratys Mojo printer. The vendor was very supportive in helping to get things going. Colleen began learning how to use it and get students involved, too. The Groveland PTA ended up purchasing the printer.
Groveland Elementary's Stratys 3D printer
When 3D printers first came into schools years ago their use was pretty limited. Until easy to use and free software became more available, a lot of the uses I saw for 3D printing by students and teachers seemed to basically be to print off pre-designed objects. Although these items are still available on sites like Thingiverse, Colleen wanted the students to make their own. To do this, she had fourth grade students set up accounts and use TinkerCad. They began to create and design models of robots that could help with something around the school. In TinkerCad, students saved their designs as .stl files which were printed from their Stratys 3D printer. 

Colleen explained that although each kid had an account, not all designs were printable. She says it was a great spatial learning task and experience for the students, as many didn't realize their drawings and objects were not on the same work plane. Some students robots might have looked OK from the front, but when viewed from all angles the models had disconnected parts. Students who created models that were all connected were able to print their designs and take them home. Some students' projects are pictured.

Hand printed from Project Enable design.
In addition to fourth grade students, third grade students in Tatiana Giraldo's class at Groveland Elementary also recently used the 3D printer. When they were learning about the skeletal system in science, Tatiana introduced the students to Project Enable, an organization that is "A Global Network Of Passionate Volunteers Using 3D Printing To Give The World A "Helping Hand." The organization's members use 3D printers to create "free hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device." Tatiana and her students ordered the kit of parts and then printed off the hand pictured. Students were able to manipulate this hand and observe how the fingers work as they learned about exo and endoskeletons. They will be donating the hand to the organization later this spring. Colleen is hoping that students next year in fifth grade can use the AutoDesk app on their iPads to build models and designs for their water rockets science unit. Besides science and health, there are so many possibilities with other subject integration such as math and language arts. She hopes to have younger students design models of a storybook character they are writing about. High Potential (gifted) students at Groveland used the 3D printer this year to create architectural designs.
Senior student designed phone case.
At the upper grades, students at Minnetonka High School in Mitch Burfeind's classes use AutoDesk Inventor to apply the engineering design process. When guests at our Annual Tours were in these classes last month, they saw students working on designing objects that they could use in their life. Students could then print their design on a MakerBot printer. One senior student showed me his phone case design (pictured) and the finished printed product. He explained that it was very difficult to get the case to actually fit on the phone and stay on, so he had gone through multiple iterations on his project. 

It is fun to see 3D printers in use from our youngest to oldest students. I'm anxious to see more of what they create in the future. Perhaps soon they will start to include integrated and printed circuits like I saw at CES. Perhaps they'll be printing food for our cafeteria, too!

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