Playgrounds are a quintessential part of childhood. They’re where kids get exercise, indulge their imaginations, develop motor skills, learn social skills and build friendships. In Scituate, Massachusetts, fifth-grade students are involved in an important project – designing a playground for the town. It’s a project that takes place every year, and students are required to research playgrounds online and around town, design a playground on graph paper, calculate costs, and present a proposal to the board of selectmen.
This year, the students were able to present more than just a sketch of a playground on paper. A Scituate Education Foundation (SEF) grant was responsible for funding a 3D printer and software for the school, and the students used the MakerBot to design and 3D print a physical representation of their playground concept.
“Fifth-grade students have been able to access and design 3D playground prototypes using Tinkercad software and a Makerbot printer,” Elementary Technology/STEM teacher Liz Dorgan told Wicked Local Scituate. “This was a great addition to the spring playground project. They were able to design a project that is realistic and to scale, use age-appropriate CAD software, print a 3D model, and develop 21st century skills.”
The skills learned by the students are important ones, and there’s no better way to teach kids about technology than to have them work on a project that incorporates something they love – and for most kids, a playground qualifies. The students get to dream up their ideal play space and present it in a tangible way, and they get to feel important and grown-up by going before town officials with their ideas. They’re learning important budgeting and planning skills, and this year they also got to learn critical technological skills that they will carry with them throughout their further schooling and adulthood.
“[The use of the printer] combines creativity, problem solving, and computer skills,” said Dorgan. “3D printers for elementary schools offer the first step for gearing children toward a STEAM- oriented (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) future. Through a combination of basic 3D modeling and assisted 3D printing, students become equipped with the essential tools to explore a STEAM career.”
Other SEF grants-in-action include “iXL Math” for individualized math review, “Polymerase Chain Reaction” for DNA analysis, “Robotics and Storytelling (Ozobots)” for coding, and “Storyboard That!” for digital storytelling and visualization.
Having a 3D printer available is a benefit to teachers as well, as they must learn 3D design and 3D printing skills themselves in order to teach their students – a focus for MakerBot, which includes education as a major strategy. Tinkercad is also recognized as one of the best CAD programs for kids and new learners.
Many teachers are encountering this technology for the first time, as today’s generation of students is the first that is actually being taught these skills in school. Putting a 3D printer in an elementary school also fosters connections between the elementary school students and middle and high school students, who already have access to 3D printers – the older students can work with the younger kids to teach them 3D printing skills while building new friendships and mentoring relationships. The benefits of 3D printers in schools are obvious for the skills they impart, but their impacts go much further than just pure education.
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