Every educator knows that teaching is more than a full-time job. The hours dedicated to their work go far beyond the traditional 9-5, 40 hours a week framework, to say nothing of the levels of energy the work requires. It’s all the more impressive, therefore, that Megan Finesilver does all that she does. In addition to teaching second grade at Challenge to Excellence Charter School, she also finds time to speak about 3D printing, help animals in need, and create curriculum so that as many students as possible can learn about 3D printing.

Finesilver is clearly passionate about what she does, and 3D printing is at the center of it all, from her classroom lessons to the prosthetic devices she helps create for disabled animals. We recently had the chance to speak with her about her work for our Spotlight on Educators series.

Please tell us about your background, history and current work. 

“My background initially was in social work. I was a foster care social worker in Philadelphia before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in Education through Drexel University. This experience has come full circle, as my husband and I began our journey as foster parents last year. I became certified to teach elementary and special education an have taught 2nd grade at Challenge to Excellence Charter School in Parker, Colorado for the past 5 years. I am an active speaker on 3D Printing through The 3D Printing Store and try to dedicate time to Pawsthetics, a charity creating 3D Printed solutions for a range of animals in need. I have also developed summer camp and elementary curriculum to incorporate a range of S.T.E.A.M. lessons revolving around 3D Printing.”

What methods have you used to get kids interested in 3D printing in the classroom? 

Student Kole Bauman with the 3D printed bridge he designed

“The administration at Challenge to Excellence has been amazing and encourages us to integrate S.T.E.A.M. into daily lessons. They are supportive in my belief that 3D printing is a huge part of our students future and allocated funds toward a MakerBot and a LulzBot for our school. As a chair of C2E’s S.T.E.A.M fair this year, I was overjoyed to see several 3D Printing projects and CAD designs throughout our K-8 school. Seeing a student develop an idea, design it themselves in CAD and print it, is quite an amazing process. The pride of holding something that is truly yours from start to finish is apparent on the beaming grin on a students face. It cements the fact that 3D Printing is not only a useful skill to teach children, but they are extremely motivated to learn it!

My family’s company, The 3D Printing Store, has been an integral part of providing a background knowledge in 3D Printing as well as a constant resource for both my questions and my students. I’m constantly sharing stories and pictures with my 2nd graders as well as to the school community of 3D Printed objects developed and printed for contestants on Shark Tank or a Pawsthetic device for an animal. Although it’s fun for me to brag about fun projects from the store, more than anything, I want children to realize that they are capable of creating tangible and useful solutions in our world. They are motivated most when they’re challenged to think of what they can create.”

Overall, how have your students responded to working with 3D printing?

“Overall, my students have been ecstatic about 3D Printing through the stories I tell them, the objects I show them and the whir of an ever present 3D printer they hear. My classroom is home to the LulzBot Mini in our school so they’re able to see a slew of different projects being printed and have a good understanding of how the process works. Throughout the year, the technology teacher and I collaborate on teaching the students CAD to develop a basic understanding of how to create something in 3D. The lessons on SketchUp and TinkerCAD are extremely valuable, and best of all – free! As a class, we work together on the lessons prior to attempting to design on our own.

Despite their young age, 2nd graders are extremely capable. Putting the ownership on them to work through frustrations and errors allows students to gain a better understanding of what it truly takes to create a 3 dimensional object. For some students, it comes more naturally than others. It’s empowering for those students, that may struggle with reading or writing, to become experts and help others with CAD design. With the basic understanding that the lessons provide, my students are able to explore and experiment with their own designs before being able to print a bridge of their own. It is with great pride that they then present the process to parents and fellow students at the school’s S.T.E.A.M. fair. Parents are generally amazed that their 7 and 8 year olds are able to 3D print. I believe the basics of CAD can be taught to children as early as kindergarten, with a willing instructor. It is the adults that struggle more, as we’re used to designing 2D objects with a pencil and paper.

Recently, I began a 3D Printing Club for middle schoolers at C2E. As a group, we designed and made a scaled replica of the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. The finished project is displayed both in our school permanently and was submitted to the district art show year. A huge benefit of the 3D Printing Club was that those middle school students have a better understanding of both the machines and process and are now helpful resources for the whole school. Several of those students have dedicated their study hall or free time to help younger students and change prints while I’m teaching. It has really helped me to create connections throughout the school with students I wouldn’t generally work with. It is empowering for those students to be able to be the ‘go-to 3D Print experts’ in our school, but it also gives them a leg up on a valuable skill they’ll continue to develop in high school, college, and perhaps a lucrative engineering, architectural, or even fashion career.”

What do you think are some of the challenges in getting 3D printing adopted on a wide scale in schools?

“The most challenging part of getting educators on board with 3D printing in their curriculum is they are unfamiliar with the process. I’ve been to several schools where the 3D Printers are paperweights because no one has taken the time to learn how to use them. It takes time to learn a CAD program as well as the particulars of a 3D Printer. And it takes time to teach students the basics before they can design on their own. It is difficult to encourage educators today to learn new skills when it can feel like we’re already drowning in things that we are required to do according to state standards, district policy and school administration. Right now, it is an extra skill that is not ‘necessary’ for our students to learn. But to be competitive in almost any job field in the future, CAD skills are a requirement. From medical to automotive to fashion to architecture, educators need to prepare students for existing jobs as well as those that have not been created yet. It is evident in any episode of Shark Tank that inventions are moving a mile a minute and anyone can create a million dollar idea. Paper cache is fun, but it won’t create a usable prototype.”

Do you have any advice for educators looking to introduce 3D printing into their classrooms for the first time?

“To integrate 3D printing successfully in the classroom, the teacher has to be open to not knowing everything. It is O.K. if you are not an expert on CAD or 3D printing. If you are willing to take the time to learn through the lessons, share your mistakes, and even get pointers from a 7 year old that found an easier way, you are ready. I’ve presented several times to teachers that can not think of how 3D printing can be incorporated into the subject they teach. Students will find a way if you allow them. Creating a replica, a model of a building, a 3D map, a household invention or a stop action movie with 3D printed parts are all ideas that I’ve gotten to see students create when given a chance to go further with the lesson. Put the ownership on the students and I think educators will realize it is a lot less work than anticipated.

Funding for a 3D Printer is equally a challenge for educators. One of the biggest lessons learned with The 3D Printing Store and speaking to other educators is, ‘you get what you pay for.’ A lot of 3D Printers being marketed as small and affordable end up being dusty paper weights in your classroom. Research thoroughly and make sure the company you pick has helpful customer service that you can reach. Applying for grants, DonorsChoose.org and AdoptAClassroom.org are a few ways to get your classroom on track for 3D Printing. Sometimes, it might just take presenting your case and the value of the investment to the administration. You may be surprised at how many other teachers at your school are interested in getting on board as well. I’m a big believer that sharing in the failures,  mistakes and successes are key components to creating a successful community of 3D Printing educators.”

Most children are naturally drawn to 3D printing, but it takes an instructor who is passionate about the subject to keep them interested in continuing to explore and pursue it. Finesilver’s love for her students and for 3D printing is evident, and that kind of enthusiasm is contagious – not just for kids, but for other teachers. It’s the work of educators like Finesilver that is helping to push 3D printing forward as an integral part of curriculum around the world.

Share your thoughts in the Megan Finesilver forum at 3DPB.com.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know an educator we should get in touch with, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing your stories. Find all the features in this series here.

[Images provided by Megan Finesilver]

 

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