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pic3STEAM education approaches Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics subjects to provide hands-on and engaging lessons for school kids of all ages. Increasingly, we see evidence that educators view 3D printing technologies as an integral part of growing STEAM lesson plans. They seek innovative educational activities that bring STEAM subjects alive in the classroom and form a spirit of camaraderie in a high-tech learning community. Recently, New York’s Dimension Learning hosted a unique challenge for its students that emulates exactly why educators are growing more interested in 3D printing education efforts. This activity had student teams using accessible design software programs to create tools for robots to use while navigating their way through obstacle courses. I can’t think of one school-age student who would call this kind of educational activity boring!

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The Bot Enabled Task Accomplishment (BETA) Challenge 2016 was created for New York City students who used 3D design and printing to make tools for robots to use on an obstacle course. The big challenge here, after students were asked to design tools to aid robots through the course, is that the course layout was not revealed until minutes before the event went live. This means that the tools needed to be able to function in any imaginable course; students rose to this challenge by creating a variety of 3D printed tools that taught them 3D design and printing skills, as well as teamwork skills.

pic1Harlem-based Dimension Learning sponsored the event, choosing to use a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer because of its large print bed, supportive team, and high-quality finished prints, according to Eldrid Sequeira, President of Dimension Learning, reports. The challenge, which was aimed at students in grades 5-8, divided students into 9 teams to use TinkerCAD to design tools. A wide range of shapes were used to model their tools, and parts that worked as joints were made in the hope that added flexibility would help the robots to more easily move through a variety of obstacles. Instructors involved in making the challenge happen used Thingiverse designs to create course obstacles.

You can imagine that much excitement was in the air on the day the students’ designs were unveiled to be used on Dimension Learning’s Human Circulatory Course, designed by instructor Lily Su, and Mars Mission Course, designed by instructor and our own 3DPrint.com writer Michael Parker. Sequeira describes more about the event:

“The designs were judged by their ability to accomplish the task with minimal human interaction. They’re mastering spatial reasoning and 21st century skills like CAD design. The competitions give them practice to work as teams under pressure. And let’s not talk about all the academic content they’re learning— they might realize it’s an educational class!”

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Sequeira’s acknowledgment that students can learn more rigorous academic content while having fun and working together in teams speaks to the goals of the best of STEAM/3D printing education. It’s also a positive development that more educators are sharing activities in STEAM and 3D printing education networks, as we see the value of the technology for learners of all ages.

“I was impressed with the BETA Challenge project because it showed how 3D printing can engage students in STEM subjects and design thinking. 3D Printing enabled Dimension Learning to bring topographic NASA data of Mars to life, while students iterated through an entire design cycle in order to navigate this topography,” said Caroline Solis, director of global marketing strategy at MakerBot. “These students were excited to spend an afternoon learning, testing and problem solving because they were engaged in hands-on projects. This type of project-based learning allows students to connect abstract concepts to the real world – and that’s what 3D printing in education is all about.”

Discuss this challenge further in the Dimension Learning MakerBot 3D Challenge forum over at 3DPB.com.

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