In Nanuet, NY at A. MacArthur Barr Middle School, the students are riveted by drag racing. No, it’s not a recreation of the musical Grease; instead it is the brainchild of teacher and racing commissioner Vinny Garrison, designed to help students understand engineering principles through hands on experience. At Barr Middle School though it has become more than just a project, it is a rite of passage.
The project has become a standard part of the school curriculum and students expect it to be part of their eighth grade experience. Garrison described the impact the project has had on the spirit of the student body:
“They look forward to eighth grade. It’s a project that kids remember. I have kids engineering parts – parts that don’t exist. Last year was the first year we started 3D printing wheels; it’s doubled the engineering aspect of it really. They are going to get to college and teacher is going to be, ‘Oh, you’re good. You know how to do this.’”
Outside of the wood shop, a display case houses a number of cars, and their 3D printed wheels, that have risen to past glory on the hallway track. There is also a leaderboard that keeps tally of the fastest times for the 65 foot run both for the current year and those that hold the all time records.
The preparation for the race has humble beginnings. Each student is given a foot long block of wood to carve into the vehicle of his or her dreams. Each car has to have a compartment in the back large enough to hold the CO2 cartridge (like those used for whipping cream) that is used to propel the vehicle. The aesthetics of the vehicle is limited only by the imagination of the designer and, of course, the laws of physics. While some will give their car a long and lean profile in the hopes of taking advantage of any aerodynamic properties that might help their car excel, others will shape theirs into flowers or other personally symbolic shapes.
The bodies of the cars aren’t the only place where there is variation. The wheels also reflect the ideas of the students creating them. Some schools that participate in this kind of activity might order stock wheels in bulk to distribute to the students. At Barr, however, the learning extends one step farther. Students design their own wheels using 3D design software and then print them on MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printers.
The record, which like the times registered in Olympic swimming, has become a matter of thousandths of a second’s difference. In fact the completion time for the race has dropped from 0.701 to 0.643 seconds since the introduction of 3D printing. Those who have longed for a taste of glory often design wheels that weigh as little as eight-tenths of a gram and help their vehicle find its way to glory.
Through this project, students are either introduced to the idea of digital making or have a chance to hone an already developed fascination. The middle school treats the machines as simply additional tools available to students and is representative of the level of integration that this type of manufacturing is achieving for this generation. In the fall, the school will be introducing students to the MakerBot Replicator Mini and it will be no surprise if this mini machine helps the students get even better results. Discuss this unique application of 3D printing within the educational realm in the 3D printed drag race forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video of the students racing their cars below.
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