Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics are picking up steam lately – which is handy, as they fall into a curriculum of the same name, as STEAM education takes its place in schools around the world. Also called STEM education, these curricula focus students’ attention on growing fields in the 21st century. In Dayton, Ohio, I recently had the opportunity to visit the awesome Proto BuildBar, and see how business was going, as well as attend a Kickstarter launch party Proto was hosting for the Gem City Catfé. While I was there, Tom Mitchell said that one of the areas Proto focuses on is working with groups of students at STEM-related events, and mentioned a local event where Proto Buildbar would be exhibiting, called Springboro STEMfest. As the event was being held at my alma mater, Springboro High School (SHS), and would feature 3D printing and STEM activities, I knew I had to check it out. This was only the second year for Springboro STEMfest – last year’s event took place on March 14th (or Pi Day), and was led by a group of five parent volunteers. There was no budget in place for the event – funds and supplies were donated.
“Because Springboro Schools operates with one of the lowest costs per pupil in the entire State of Ohio, there is little money for special programs, outside speakers, or any additional curriculum that supplements existing courses,” DeRosa told me. “As parents began to research options to bring more STEM and STEAM programming to students, the district launched a special group for the parents of gifted students. There is a wealth of professional experience and interests in the STEM and STEAM fields right here within our own community. This small group of parents – with children ranging from elementary through high school – proposed a little event with a few parent and community speakers. In just six weeks between the proposal and the event, it grew to 30 exhibits with nearly 900 people walking through our first Springboro STEMfest!”
“I think the key to this event is that it is volunteer started and led, and the first year was an unexpectedly big success. Now, this year’s event has nearly doubled the number of exhibits. Springboro STEMfest’s story really illustrates that there is a need and interest for this type of programming.”
The event has definitely picked up steam (ha!), and there were over 55 exhibits at the 2017 STEMfest. As I was driving to the high school last night, the skies opened up, and it was raining so hard, I could hardly hear myself think. As if the deluge wasn’t enough, the accompanying thunder and lightning actually shook my car once, and I was worried that families wouldn’t want to brave the weather to come to the STEMfest. I needn’t have worried – DeRosa told me this morning that the committee is estimating attendance was over 1,000!
When I arrived, DeRosa gave me a map of all the exhibits and demonstrations, and I could see there would be a lot of ground to cover. Several local colleges and universities had exhibits, like the University of Dayton, Wright State University, and Sinclair Community College. Some local companies were also there, including Ball Aerospace and GE Aviation, the latter of which brought its PowerSpec 3D Pro Printer and used it print out handheld items for people to check out, including a small 3DBenchy boat. I chatted with the employees there for a few minutes later in the evening, and they mentioned that the company has been working on acquiring metal additive manufacturing companies. They also said that they had a large 3D Systems printer back at the office, which was used for rapid prototyping purposes.
DeRosa introduced me to Eric Miller, who runs Makerspace Boro, which provides affordable STEAM and STEM learning opportunities for kids of all ages. Miller runs classes out of a shop in Springboro, and also teaches daily STEM classes to 4th and 5th graders at two Springboro elementary schools; he was just one of several district teachers who volunteered to host activities and exhibits at the event. He brought Makerspace Boro’s MakerBot Replicator 2 with him, which he told me was purchased on sale and funded by one of the local after school STEM clubs.
“There are a few 3D printers in Springboro schools, and this year the district added a Makerspace special class for all students in grades 4-5,” DeRosa told me when I asked if there were any plans to bring more 3D printing or STEM-related events or activities to the Springboro community. “In addition, we have two after school STEM clubs that are run by teachers who volunteer their time after school at our sixth grade building.”
Back when I was in junior high, some of my special ‘Flex’ classes included babysitting and dance. While I’m sure there were other options more in line with science and technology (which I personally had zero interest in when I was 12), having these types of innovative STEM classes available now just goes to show how far we’ve come in introducing the latest technology to younger students. Some of the 3D printed offerings Miller had at STEMfest included a handheld solar system (so students could really visualize the size difference between the sun and planets), handheld topographical maps of the US (including one based on population), and some 3D printed house models, which were designed by elementary students at the after school club.
He also had a fun activity, where kids made rockets out of plastic straws, construction paper, and modeling clay. The clay had to cover one end of the straw, and the other slipped over a Pitsco launch tube – kids then pulled back the air pressure plunger, and the rocket would shoot out across the room. I was glad to learn about this activity ahead of time, so I knew not to stand in the landing area! I walked over to Proto BuildBar’s table to see what they were demonstrating – Mitchell and the other employees had brought a MakerBot Replicator 2, and were also printing out what they called typewriter selfies on an old dot matrix printer.
I ran into my AP English teacher, who pointed me in the direction of the high school’s Digital Media Arts class table, and an extremely knowledgeable senior student named Trevor, who was more than happy to tell me about the 3D printers they were demonstrating. The MakerBot Mini, dubbed R23D, was not running at the table, but C3DO, the EcubMaker, was busily 3D printing chess pieces all night.
Trevor told me about the class’s upcoming Tech Prep competition, and showed me their project, a game they created called Captain Kracken, made with Autodesk Mudbox and Autodesk Maya, with the modeling animation completed in Blender. He also told me, with well-earned excitement, of his upcoming job shadowing opportunity at Marxent Labs.
His business card (kids carry business cards now?) declared his expertise in 3D modeling, and we chatted for a few minutes about its use in movies like Moana and Passengers. This is what he aspires to do with his life, and I sincerely believe that one day we will see his name in the credits of an award-winning movie that utilized 3D printing and modeling.
Next to the Digital Media Arts table, there were some Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot robots, which kids could control to drive around a small maze, and an Osmo game: I was told that these offerings were used to teach kids as young as first grade the ins and outs of coding. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) was further down, which, according to its website, “provides transformative learning experiences for K-12 students and teachers across the US.” The students with PLTW, there in collaboration with Sinclair and the Warren County Career Center, were demonstrating a Mow-Bot, which I was told took less than three months to build, along with a robot that would launch ping pong balls, and another that would raise its arm when a washer was slipped into a specific slot.
Speaking of robots, Springboro Robotics had some exhibits and demonstrations, including the younger team’s Ohio FIRST Lego League project, and the older team’s Kentucky FIRST Tech Challenge robots. SHS Robot Wars was also there, demonstrating its Tombstone robot, which won a competition this summer and will be competing again soon at the local Xtreme Bots competition. Rory Korzan, the high school physics teacher, supervises the team, and told me that it took the students about a month to design Tombstone, and two months to build it. He said that teachers try to “mix it up” in the classroom, especially in regards to STEM education, and that in order to make something in class and have the time to test it out there, they often only have 15 minutes to work with.
“We find ways to get that 15 minutes to work,” he told me.
There was so much to see at Springboro STEMfest – Mason City Schools STEAM teachers were there with their popular LED Throwies, Mathnasium of Centerville hosted some hands-on math activities, and I even took a second to pet a milk snake who was visiting from one of the science and nature-related organizations. Once the rain finally let up and the sun came out, the Wright Stuff Rocketeers launched a small rocket in the parking lot. I also got to see a ping pong ball shoot out of a Super Sonic Vacuum Ping Pong Ball Cannon at 1,100 mph!
Members of the high school band taught kids about the science of sound, the Springboro Kiwanis Club hosted hands-on demonstrations to make elephant toothpaste, and the Wright State University College of Engineering & Computer Science was there, with a 3D printed university Raider (wolf) mascot and one of the giant wheels from the WSU Robotics Club’s robot, which will soon compete in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center. Wright State also has a Student Technology Assistance Center, where students can use the onsite 3D printers, and attend special interest events on topics like hacking and cyber security.
I asked DeRosa what the event organizers hoped that kids and families would get out of the event, and what the benefits were of having STEM events at public schools.
“Our signs this year say things like ‘Welcome Explorers’ and ‘Time to Pick up STEAM.’ Those quick phrases summarize what we want to do,” DeRosa told me. “First, we simply want to offer space and time for kids and families to explore. Second, we hope learners – young and old – find something that sparks their interests in science, technology, engineering, the arts, or mathematics. Within a few steps around STEMfest, people will be able to explore robotics, a hands-on Makerspace, 3D printing demonstrations, live animals, the science of baseball, how sound is produced in musical instruments, and so much more. There is also an element of local interest and pride as Springboro STEMfest features so many organizations, employers, careers, camps, and agencies that are here in our own area.”
“We believe this event brings many benefits to the schools and community. Schools are asked to do more and more within the same hours of the day. Springboro STEMfest offers fun ways to explore careers and for families to learn together. We are very pleased for the partnership of Springboro Schools in allowing us to use the school for the event.”
To round out that feeling of community, all of the concessions at last night’s event were sold by the SHS AfterProm committee. We talk about STEM and STEAM education a lot here at 3DPrint.com, and it looks like Springboro schools are certainly “picking up STEAM” in this area. Discuss in the Springboro STEMfest forum at 3DPB.com.
You can see more photos from Springboro STEMfest below:
[All Photos: Sarah Saunders for 3DPrint.com]