Oakwood School: California K-12 Students Teach Each Other 3D Printing Through Cascaded Learning in Immersion Program

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UntitledThere are many subjects students simply aren’t wild about, from math to chemistry to those pesky grammar courses. Sometimes it’s hard to get the kids interested in media labs, science labs, and the library, but one thing most teachers, librarians, and lab supervisors will tell you is that if you put a 3D printer there, the kids will arrive in droves with questions, files they want to print out, and ideas for new 3D models.

Often though, schools–and especially those in more rural areas–receive 3D printers through programs and grants, but there is no real instruction or curriculum to go with them. The idea of teaching a class in the technology is often not even an option at first, as both the teachers and the students are all learning how to perform digital design and operate the 3D printer at once. And while that’s a great bonding and learning experience for everyone all around, it doesn’t lead to the most streamlined learning possible.

UntitledThings are much, much different at the Oakwood School in CA, functioning as a college prep school on two campuses in the San Fernando Valley. There, the administration and faculty at this independent K-12 school are able to boast a full-fledged program in 3D printing, encompassed as the central focus in a STEAM curriculum put together both by students and the STEAM Department Chair, Marcos Arias.

In an incredibly fascinating approach to any type of education, but centering around one that’s already popular with kids of all ages, older students practice what they call a ‘cascading approach.’ They learn about 3D printing comprehensively first by building out their own Printrbot 3D printers. Obviously, there’s no better way to learn than by actually making their own machines. After that, they learn to use and control the Printrbots with Simplify3D Software.

Once the high-schoolers have a solid grasp of 3D printing, they participate in the school’s Immersion Program, which consists of two weeks, outside of their normal schoolwork and schedules, working with younger students and watching the ‘transfer of knowledge’ directly at work as they pass their knowledge on. They actually take on the roles of teaching assistants for the next Immersion classes of seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. Obviously this takes everyone out of the rote–and boring–learning process and prompts further enthusiasm as they master new skillsets and learn to solve problems related to the STEAM curriculum.

This program has evolved rather quickly at Oakwood, via Arias and his students. With the Oakwood Immersion Program receiving a ‘technology infusion’ in 2009, Arias began offering the immersion classes. Several years later he had an entire department devoted only to STEAM classes.

“My department is constantly changing. To stay relevant with new technologies, I spend a great deal of time researching what studies we should add next, and 3D printing was on my radar,” explains Arias.

UntitledThis all came together last year with the help of a student, Lucas. They worked to test out the idea of an immersion class focusing on 3D printing. With Lucas as the guinea pig, Arias supplied him with a Printrbot kit and sent him off to build it and start 3D printing on his own. As a basic novice, he was indeed able to research how to assemble the Printrbot, complete it, 3D print, and even troubleshoot issues he was having, especially at first. According to Lucas, his first print was especially tricky.

“It was all wiry and the layers weren’t sticking,” said Lucas, “But I thought to myself that even if this is the best my printer can do, this is still the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Evaluating the process Lucas went through was extremely helpful, and in examining the issues in detail is probably what is leading to such great success now. They saw that they would need the following:

  • A predictable learning experience
  • An actual 3D printer kit
  • Flexible, user-friendly software

“Simplify3D met and exceeded all of these requirements,” said Arias. “My students have what they need for an easy startup experience, but they also have the software tools to advance to more complicated printing projects.”

While students were able to troubleshoot efficiently online, they were also able to work in a much more streamlined manner thanks to the Simplify3D Print Quality Troubleshooting Guide  which we followed the release of just recently. This guide is a godsend for many as it offers so much concise wisdom and addresses so many common issues–especially for the novice.


The Simplify3D Software being used in the lab at Oakwood.

Not surprisingly, the immersion class has been hugely popular, and ‘signups’ more than tripled capacity. With such an outpouring of enthusiasm for the program, they are adding a ‘How to Build a 3D Printer’ camp for the summer of next year so as not to leave out additional applicants.

As an example of the wonders of this type of program, Zoe, a tenth-grader, is highlighted after working as a teaching assistant last year in the Immersion Program. She actually ‘cascaded’ her knowledge to a nearby school as well because they did not have similar resources. Going so far as to organize a complete outreach program for the other school, Zoe was able to pass on the same enthusiasm and excitement to an entirely separate group of students in giving them an intro to 3D printing and information about why a STEAM curriculum is so important for today’s education.

“The response from the students during the first class was incredible,” said Zoe. “Their awe and curiosity, their excitement about the possibilities, and their interest as to how the 3D printers worked allowed me to experience the same wonder I felt when I first saw a 3D printer in action.”

For this past year, they were able to open the class up to over 100 elementary students. Now that’s a true example of the cascading learning experience as inspiration trickles down from other souls who have just learned something amazing themselves.

Printrbot, Simplify3D, BuildTak, and Polymaker have all contributed resources and materials to the Oakwood Immersion Program.

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