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3D printing has infiltrated educational systems all over the world, and very much so in the US. It’s a wonderful thing that students have become so familiar with seeing 3D printers that they almost take them for granted—many not realizing that just a few years ago they were a wonder to behold, and a rarity. Today, you will probably see 3D printers in your public libraries, where elementary-school children operate them with ease—and your kids will come home with excited stories about what they have seen made, or what they made themselves. And while students are very enriched by the technology, the teachers also benefit by having such tools at hand.

Companies like Aleph Objects, Inc., responsible for the line of very popular LulzBot 3D printers, have been fully behind projects encouraging such technology in schools. Now, Houston’s Velasco Elementary School is using 3D printers to problem solve.

Communication is often an issue in schools where many of the students do not share English as a first language. Javier Montiel, a bilingual teacher, was intent on teaching students how to better speak and understand Spanish. Seeing that students tend to struggle with phonetics and syllables, Montiel decided innovative visual aids were the key.

 “After a deep reflection process of what could be the best approach for these students to write and manipulate syllables, my first thought was to cut and laminate bulky cards,” Montiel said. “Then I raised my head, and I saw the school’s LulzBot Mini 3D Printer. Just like a flash, inside my mind, I saw the syllables being printed and my students touching, manipulating, dragging, and dropping the complete syllables to create words with them.”

The LulzBot Mini was both an inspiration and a catalyst for Montiel, especially considering the creative latitude allowed thanks to its open-source and open-filament system. Montiel could design exactly what he needed and envisioned for his students, offering visual aids made with precision. He was able to test out the 3D printed prototypes on his elementary-school age students, and saw that indeed they did help further learning about syllables and word structure.

“At the beginning stage of the project, the students used Text to Speech technology to realize if they were able to produce the correct words using the 3D printed syllables using a constructionist approach,” Montiel said. “After the Text to Speech phase, the students produced the words using their working memory to create words on a working mat.”

Montiel made two different types of mats, with one allowing the students to move the syllables around, and then another which was created in a digital format for the tablet. There, students could easily manipulate the syllables with their fingers—moving them in a drag and drop fashion.

Montiel also put the 3D printer to use in creating a special necklace as a visual aid, composed of rings that were then strung onto a shoelace. This piece makes practicing easier for the students.

“3D printing is a great way to materialize the needs and possibilities of educators like myself by allowing us to create with our hands our dreams and ideas in plastic,” Montiel said.

Discuss in the LulzBot forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images: LulzBot – and “3d printed Spanish syllables and text to speech” video licensed CC BY © Javier Montiel, 2017.]





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