As the magic of 3D printing is spread far and wide across the globe, many students are lucky to be getting in on the ground floor of a budding technology that provides a skillset in high, high demand by many highly respected corporations with empty seats and a need for creative, innovative minds.
It’s also no secret that while most students have never 3D printed before–guess what? Neither have most of the teachers. While that might sound like the blind leading the blind, it actually presents an extremely valuable learning process that also nurtures and allows a makerspace to evolve in its purest form. What everyone learns together first is that 3D printing fever is contagious. Projects are explored, attempted, and, while some prints fail, it’s part of a learning process that offers incredible rewards in a whole new dimension.
Many of the larger and more progressive 3D printing companies are falling in line with the idea of ‘raising up the next generations right,’ and they are targeting big teacher conferences and educational expos, offering discounts, programs, and incentives; most of all though, they are shining the spotlight on a technology that garners almost immediate enthusiasm from teachers–especially those who understand the value and importance that STEM education offers for the younger generation getting ready to head out into that big world of opportunity. They will be the next to create many of the devices and electronic innovations we cannot even comprehend employing for real-world use in the here and now.
For Nicole DeCrette, Media Specialist at Steamboat Springs High School in Colorado, the trend incorporating 3D printing into all levels of curriculum was growing more apparent at each conference she attended. She also attended the last Maker Faire in Denver, and was further encouraged to see the digital theme incorporated into the White House last year from a Maker Faire to their Christmas celebration that included a 3D printing challenge, ornaments, and a vast display digital technologies.
Although the school of 725 students encompasses a demographic of kids who often come from affluent families with well-educated parents in tune with and encouraging in regards to technology, the more isolated area Steamboat Springs High School is in often makes it hard to keep up with some of the more progressive and ultra high-tech programs that are available for more metropolitan schools today. A few of the students do have 3D printers in their homes but those cases are few and far between.
“Education is valued in our community, but given the rural area, we are far removed from some of the opportunities out there,” DeCrette told 3DPrint.com in a recent interview.
With the addition of Anne Barbier, STEM Instructional Coach, to the Steamboat Springs school administration, DeCrette found a like mind in the quest for adding more technology to the school. Together they were able to tackle the project and double their resources with DeCrette’s involvement and knowledge of what they needed and how to go forward, along with Barbier acting as a conduit due to her connection with the administration. DeCrette states that absolutely “no one” was against this project.
With virtually no experience in operating a 3D printer for anyone at the school, enthusiasm continued to grow–along with the idea of completely redesigning the library.
“It’s been a year in the making. I wasn’t in an immediate position to say we should just close the library and get started on a re-design,” said DeCrette, who was aware of the transformation they would need for implementing a real makerspace. “Ultimately though, in taking on these new technological tools, we also had to dress the part.”
It’s very important, in DeCrette’s opinion, to have the 3D printers and the makerspace in the library, as that is such a central place:
“When you put something like these 3D printers in a more public place, they are open to all, so we’re very committed to keeping the lab in the library. I want to be able to reach out to all the kids in terms of participating in the makerspace, and give them all an opportunity to try 3D printing.”
“We’re all very new to this,” DeCrette told 3DPrint.com. “We’ve seen the possibilities at conferences, and because of that and what we heard in talking to others already involved, we began looking for funding.”
While all the enthusiasm in the world is fantastic, it didn’t pay the bills for the new and not inexpensive technology. Writing grant proposals was the fever that overtook DeCrette before any technology landed in the media center. Upon hearing about a mid-year grant program being offered by the Steamboat Springs Education Fund, DeCrette applied, and the school received a cool $15,000 Innovation Grant. The board did not hesitate to fund numerous technological tools and supplies for their new makerspace, to include two LulzBot Taz5 3D printers. Along with the Innovation Grant funds, Steamboat Springs High School received a $5,000 Canvas Grant. Their last grant was the most heartwarming, with $2,500 received by the parent organization for the school, PIC (Parent Involvement Committee).
Choosing their 3D printers was no quick decision as DeCrette and her team searched diligently to find equipment which would be suitable for the students, ease the impending learning curve, and also be realistically supported by a company close enough to come to their rural area for repairs or maintenance. For that reason, they chose LulzBot, not only because of their growing reputation and popularity worldwide, but also because they have headquarters in-state, positioned in Loveland, Colorado. They are quite accessible and even offer tours of their facilities every Friday.
The LulzBot 3D printers are in the library space–perfect for giving the students plenty of space to work creatively and independently but also where faculty are conveniently nearby and able to supervise.
Along with a bevy of other tools and supplies, the school will also be receiving a laser cutter in the lab this fall. While there are currently only two 3D printers, DeCrette states there is “serious interest in seeing where this goes.”
While she admits there are times that the learning process has been “a little hiccup-y and experimental,” enthusiasm has been enormous. Since the 3D printers were delivered in March, students have already had a chance to get involved with 3D printing on the LulzBots, opening up a new level of creativity for high school students, very mired in the structure of school curriculum, who are able to stop by and work on innovative projects. While training in SOLIDWORKS is being offered in some classes, students have also been able to come by and begin exploring other programs like Tinkercad and SketchUp.
DeCrette says that suddenly she is seeing students who formerly were rarely in the library and almost never had interest in checking out books.
“They stop by the makerspace, check out files we can download from Thingiverse, and ask ‘hey, can we do that?’” says DeCrette. “Every time we use the 3D printer, it’s very authentic. The kids are dreaming up stuff to do.”
Although the school year was coming to an end just as they were really getting the hang of things in the new makerspace, faculty saw concepts being put into impressive 3D action as one student took a difficult and new concept and relayed it into a 3D model. He then took it to his math teacher as a gift, showing how he had mastered the concept of stereoprojection.
Another heartwarming project ensued as one senior was able to make a figurine for his girlfriend and present it to her as a gift; it had taken some doing to figure out how to download the particular file he wanted and then actually make the figurine he had in mind, so seeing it come off the 3D printer was met with great applause.
Plans don’t end with the installation of the makerspace. The school intends to open their new facility to a number of programs to include K-12 grade level participation in their makerspace, as well as offering a fall workshop with the intent of offering a formal tinkering session where those who are interested can come in and study the process as well as enjoy making 3D printed models and other projects. Not stopping there, DeCrette projects that they will offer their own Steamboat Maker Faire next year. Plans are well underway, with a date and venue to be announced soon.