InTrans / Dec 16, 2015

3D printers in the classroom

Go! Magazine

3D printingposted on December 16, 2015

What do you think of as a “typical” high school classroom? To me, what comes to mind is an image of students sitting quietly and taking notes while their teacher lectures. Now, let’s take my idea of a typical classroom and make it more, well, “modern” or “new-aged.” Or really, let’s just take it one step further: imagine students engaged in conversations with their peers about designing their own 3D creations. Much more exciting, right?

3D printers have been quick to enter the classroom, and teachers and students are welcoming the technology with open arms. Not only are 3D printers really exciting for students and allow them to learn hands-on skills, but these printers are also expected to be included in this generation’s future job descriptions.

This month’s series is dedicated to 3D printers, including the pros, cons, and their application in the transportation sector (See “3D printing: How can it benefit you?”). Truly, the possibilities are endless. So, with its many applications, this technology is also very fitting for K-12 education.

To understand how 3D printers are being utilized by students and teachers in the classroom, I spoke with Joe Huebbe, a ninth grade technology education teacher at Johnston Middle School in Johnston, Iowa.

A conversation with Joe Huebbe

When did you get a 3D printer?

In the fall of 2014, we received a grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase our 3D printer. Today, our school has a total of four 3D printers.

Can you tell me a little bit about your class?

My class—Graphic Communications—is a required elective for high schools students. It is classified as more of a pre-engineering course. We use Autodesk and 3D design software, with an emphasis on the design portion.

Because there is also an Introduction to Engineering class offered in ninth grade, my class is intended to be more of a broad overview about using the software to create products. The ninth grade engineering course teaches students about the math and engineering principles that go into making products.

What type of things have you printed?

In my classroom, I let the students design and print an earbud case. The students are able to work through the design process of creating an earbud case all the way through printing prototypes. Through this process, they learn to design parts that must fit together with hinges, ball and socket joints, as well as compression fit pieces. Then they have the ability to print a prototype to test their tolerances and redesign as needed.

When I got the 3D printer for my classroom, I looked for something that would teach students basic engineering principles and problem solving. I remember the first time I used it, I took it home and ran student projects from Friday night until Monday morning. It took that long to print all of the students’ individual projects! From then on, I knew that I had to come up with something small-scale for students to print.

Johnston Middle School is a one-to-one school, which means that every student has an iPad. Most students have earbuds and are even using them in the classroom to listen to online videos, etc. Before I came up with the idea for an earbud case, my goal was to try and come up with something students would be interested in. It took a few semesters to understand the print quality of the cases, to predict what they would look like, and how to teach students what to look for before printing. I like the cases because no two projects are the same. I think we will stick with this project for a while, because I’ve had a lot of good feedback from students.

Do you think all classrooms should have 3D printers?

I think 3D printing has just taken off, and now they are printing everything from organs to houses to metal-based 3D prints. The technology is evolving so fast that it is going to become common place, especially for the generation of students I’m teaching. I think the skills to maintain and work with 3D printers will be in great demand as the technology continues to be able to replicate customizable parts on the fly. I have a feeling that our future engineers will come across 3D printers on a regular basis.

Are students interested in using 3D printers?

I love seeing the students respond to the 3D printing technology. They get to print and then feel a product that they created from scratch; there is something really special about the fact that students can say: “I designed this on the computer and now I’m holding it.”

What do you see as the main benefit of 3D printers?

I think the biggest benefit is the instant gratification students get from seeing a printed version of what they designed. They come up with the concept, and if it looks good on the computer, they print it. However, they quickly learn that just because it looked good on the computer doesn’t mean it looks good once printed. So they are able to learn by touching their design and seeing how it does and doesn’t work. They often have to go back and fix any imperfections.

The printers have helped build resilience amongst the students. Usually they are like: “Okay, here is my design. I’m done.” But now, they print the design and have to go back to the books. This way you can reteach them things, and then they can try again. This reiterative process is something they would not be able to do by just looking at the computer. As a teacher, you feel like you are teaching them concrete problem solving and troubleshooting skills that will help them in their futures.

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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