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3D Printing the Future of STEM Learning

Fostering project-based learning through the use of new technology

As increasing STEM teaching and learning continue to be goals of many districts, administrators are looking for tools that help encourage more students to pursue future careers in these fields. One of these tools is 3D printing, which enhances the capacity of true science experimentation and mathematical analysis in an engineering environment to support student learning. This web seminar featured a STEM education expert who developed a new curriculum developed to provide students with a means to learn, design, produce and test solutions in a project-based learning environment using 3D printers.

Jeffrey Rosen 
Program Director, Engineering & Robotics
CEISMC
Georgia Institute of Technology

“3D printing” is starting to emerge as the buzzword for the K12 community. Everybody wants it. Everybody is looking at it. The big question is, What can we do with it? A lot of people still see STEM as four independent subject areas and think that we create a STEM environment by simply making advanced courses in those areas, or having those areas progress faster or a little deeper, or making them more rigorous than they would typically be. But the reality of STEM is about putting the disciplines all together in one cohesive learning experience. We design challenges that pull upon students’ math and science knowledge as they navigate through an experience or problem. They make decisions driven by experimentation and data that the students themselves test, document and analyze. The project that we’ve been working on, collaborating fairly heavy with the folks at Stratasys, is comprised of nine-week units focused at the 8th-grade level. In Georgia they are referred to as “Connections Classes.” They are middle school elective courses in three specific topics in a robotics and engineering curriculum.

One of those topics is biomechanics. Students design a foot for a walking insect robot, and they modify the foot to improve its capability on a variety of surfaces. We have a unit in electromagnetic radiation that is copying some of the real-life NASA mission of the Juneau spacecraft, which is currently en route to Jupiter. The students work with the 3D printer to design features of their robot to act and emulate the Juneau mission. In another unit, students design a shifting mechanism so that the robot will change gears on the fly to accommodate for different inclines and force relationships as it navigates a particular structure. The reason we chose Stratasys is because of the definition of what we’re doing here. In our case, 3D printing is not meant to produce some stationary object that sits on a desk when it’s done. It’s not for a student to say, “This is what I drew. I printed it and now look what I have.”

We are printing parts that actually get integrated into the model. So it was important to us to have a 3D printing machine that can provide a consistent part that is durable, and that fuses plastic together strong enough that it can take the wear and tear of a normal testing environment. The uPrint was the model that could give us what we needed. It also has plenty of other nice features that are good for an educator. The door locks by itself, so kids can’t open it and mess with it while it’s printing. You can set the printer to turn itself off at the end of a job—so a teacher can set it to print, leave, then come in the next day and their print job is done and the printer is shut off. Based on the nine-week timeframe, we usually attempt to get the teachers to accomplish three iterations of the students’ design so that they have enough data to be able to confirm their improvements. And as we teach, we end up allowing for more creativity and more complex design.

The cognitive side of this is that the student realizes that this is not all about just his or her learning—it’s about the learning of the whole group. At high school levels we’re starting to implement collaborative project design. For example, let’s say that they’re designing an adjustable crescent wrench. Different students will have different components that they have to put together. At the end of the project, each group’s part must fit with the others’ to produce one single product. If you look at large industries, such as the aircraft industry, that’s exactly how they work. So students at the high school level not only design a specific piece, but also have an understanding of how a system works, how pieces of the system integrate to work together.

Terry Cambron
Southeast Region Channel Manager
Stratasys

Stratasys is the worldwide leader of 3D printing technology. The company was founded in 1987 and is based in a suburb of Minneapolis. In 2012 we merged with our largest competitor, Objet, which develops printers that use a different type of technology called PolyJet. Last year we acquired MakerBot, which is now under the Stratasys umbrella. We have roughly 40,000 printers sold in the U.S. alone, and about 75,000 worldwide. We hold about 45 percent of the market share.

Stratasys manufactures 23 different types of printing technologies, and we’ll introduce some more printing technologies in November. The printers range from the entry-level Mojo and uPrint, to the Design series and Production series, which are used to produce end-use parts in the automotive and aerospace industries, among others. Clearly education is a segment in today’s market that is not going to go away. We are beginning to see that people are using 3D printers not only on the commercial side, but also to train tomorrow’s engineers, tomorrow’s mechanics and tomorrow’s technicians. This is not the type of technology that is fly-by-night and in 10 years will be a thing of the past; this is something that is continually revolutionizing technology and will continue to expand. We have roughly 8,000 printers in educational institutions, ranging from elementary schools to research universities.

Georgia Tech has over two dozen different types of Stratasys 3D printers on campus, and they are one of our largest users of 3D printing today. 3D printing in the classroom is not limited to just what we would consider print engineering, or mechanical engineering. It also has applications with arts, mathematics, robotics, machine tool, biomed—areas where you need to have some type of a 3D capacity to actually see a part, touch it, feel it and analyze it. What is the benefit of 3D printing? In a nutshell, it’s to evaluate fit, form or function. I recommend visiting the MIT website and looking up Neri Oxman. She is probably the foremost engineer in 3D printing on a university level. Her mind is amazing—she has come up with some revolutionary and intriguing 3D printing models.

There can also be a secondary market. St. Margaret’s High School in Minneapolis uses 3D printing to design prototypes for local businesses. The students are anywhere from 16 to 18 years old, sophomores to seniors, and they go from design, to draw, to actually operating the printer. Mike Bruggeman, the instructor there, hosts informational sessions ranging from 3D printing to curriculum development, and has become an advocate for Stratasys and 3D printing. St. Margaret’s has a three-year program to strengthen the students’ problem-solving skills. They use a unique curriculum that they’ve developed. One year they teach students how to approach a problem. The second year they teach the 3D CAD skills, whether through AutoCAD, Solid Works or Google Draw. The third year, they apply the CAD design and 3D printing. It’s a nice set of stepping stones, going from an application, to drawing that application, to actually bringing that application to life.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws101514