Tag Archives: 3D printing

Tennessee Teachers Turn to Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute

A $1 million program established by the Volkswagen Group of America will give students in Hamilton County, Tennessee, hands-on access to digital fabrication tools like robotics, laser cutters, and programmable microcomputers. The automaker is partnering with the Hamilton County Department of Education to establish VW eLabs aimed at teaching twenty-first-century skills.

To administer the program, Volkswagen turned to the Chattanooga-based Public Education Foundation (PEF). After PEF’s Director of Innovative Learning Michael Stone and his colleagues selected the first batch of eight schools to receive funding, the next challenge was preparing educators to provide students with meaningful learning experiences using the new technologies, which ranged from 3-D printers to laser cutters.

To do that, Stone sent 17 Hamilton County teachers to the Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute, offered by the Elizabeth Forward School District (EFSD) in Elizabeth, PA.

“In awarding us this grant, Volkswagen charged us with not only opening these labs and making sure there wasn’t high-tech equipment just sitting there, but they were very clear that they wanted to see legitimate impact,” said Stone.

He found a perfect partner in the EFSD, which has taken a leading role in the maker movement and its extension into fabrication and “fab labs.”

Even to educators who regularly incorporate making into their lesson plans, fabrication may be a new concept. To Todd Keruskin, EFSD assistant superintendent, the fabrication lab offers much of the same potential for learning opportunities afforded by makerspaces, with an expanded tool kit.

“In a simple makerspace, you may have cardboard and tape and glue and bottle cleaners, and you can give kids design challenges that way,” said Keruskin. “In a fab lab, it’s the other side of the spectrum, with laser cutters and 3-D printers and plasma cutters.”

Learning to use the laser cutter at Pittsburgh Fab Institute / Photo by Ben Filio

While both makerspaces and fabrication labs pose interesting challenges to learners, the fabrication lab puts technology at the center of the experience.

“We’re getting kids to use technology not just to play Minecraft, but to ask themselves, ‘How do I use this to design and make?’” said Keruskin. “You can get kindergartners designing and printing, or first-graders using laser cutters.”

The Pittsburgh Fabrication Institute offered by the EFSD is a four-day conference providing educators hands-on opportunities to learn both design thinking and specific fabrication tools, ranging from vinyl cutters and 3-D printers to electronic components and CNC routers. In June 2017, it was offered for the third year, with attendance growing substantially over that time, from approximately 60 educators in 2015 to 140 this year, with attendees traveling from 12 different states.

Like fabrication itself, the Fab Institute emphasizes hands-on learning, and is designed to prepare teachers to return to their home schools comfortable with a range of equipment, ready to instruct and inspire students.

“Educators don’t want to be talked to and be bored,” said Keruskin. “The only way to learn this stuff is by doing—and failing.”

It’s the exact process—what Keruskin calls a “growth mindset”—that he and other educators are trying to instill in their students.

“It’s a major part of the twenty-first–century skills we’re teaching,” he said. “We need to teach a growth mindset where they’re going to be resilient and push forward and if they don’t understand something they’ll figure it out.”

EFSD’s interest in the potential of makerspaces and fabrication labs began in 2011, when Keruskin and his superintendent, Bart Rocco, decided to seek out ways to enhance programs like woodshop and other hands-on electives, which at the time were being cut from the state’s education budget. They reached out to experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and to leaders in the maker movement, including members of the Remake Learning network in the Pittsburgh region.

“When I went to school, we made a birdhouse or a step stool,” said Keruskin. “Those days are over. We want to be able to bring creativity and learning. How do we integrate a computer into wood shop? How do we get kids designing on computers?”

Going from digital design to physical product / Photo by Ben Filio

The district’s first efforts at makerspaces and fabrication were at the high school and middle school level, with efforts currently underway to implement these curricula in elementary schools.

“Creativity and innovation, these are the skills we’re trying to teach—twenty-first century skills,” said Keruskin. “We want kids to be more collaborative, and to be able to communicate—why did they design this, and why did they do it this way? They still need to read and know mathematics, but these are among the many skills that making brings out.”

Stone and the Chattanooga teachers returned to Tennessee energized, inspired by their experience at the Fab Institute.

“We loved the fully immersive experience,” he said. “It really lets teachers engage with the tool as if they were the students, and it’s not didactic. The teachers raved about the increase in their confidence to utilize the tools in the space.”

Grant Knowles, one of the participating teachers from Normal Park Museum Magnet School who this year will fill the role of VW eLabs specialist, noted the value of peer-to-peer learning that occurred between educators at the institute.

“One thing that stuck out was the ability to interact with other teachers,” he said. “You could collaborate and brainstorm with people who did this every day, and others who were learning the process.”

That openness was by design, said Keruskin. Over four days of participating in hands-on workshops and eating lunch together, teachers and administrators get to know one another, often sharing ideas on how to integrate fabrication into their curricula.

“People come to us at the Fab Institute each with a different background,” Keruskin said. “Oftentimes they try to help guide others with what they want to do in their own school.”

The Fab Institute seeks to bolster networking connections by holding additional meetings in the fall and spring, allowing educators to share ideas, comparing notes on their success integrating fabrication into different lesson plans.

“We don’t want this to be a standalone course in schools,” said Keruskin. “Back in the day, when I worked in computer class, the only time I touched a computer was in that class, and now computers are integrated into every class.”

While in Pittsburgh, Stone and representatives from the school district and from Volkswagen shadowed Keruskin throughout an entire school day.

“What we really liked in what we saw is the partnerships,” said Stone. “The way that Elizabeth Forward as a school district is embedding digital fabrication as a common thread in the education experience is more authentic than you see anywhere else in the country.”

Knowles saw evidence of the EFSD’s embrace of fabrication in a different facet of his Fab Institute experience:

“The presenters were excellent but the student assistants from Elizabeth Forward absolutely knew what was going on,” he said. “It was very clear this was something they were not only knowledgeable about but very invested in.”

“All of us felt very strongly that they were onto something and it felt like something we could scale, and take ownership over, and to a large degree replicate,” said Stone.

Indeed, there is talk of organizing a Tennessee Fabrication Institute in the months ahead.

3D Printing: Coming to a Classroom or Museum Near You

In museums and classrooms across the country, 3D printers are teaching design and engineering, bringing historic treasures into young hands, and letting budding inventors try and try again.

If 3D printing—which builds an object layer by layer based on precise, computer-assisted design specifications—hasn’t come to a school or museum near you yet, you can bet it’s on its way. Some industry watchers predict 2014 will be a big year for 3D in the classroom. While top-of-the-line models still cost a pretty penny, CNN has reported some smaller, stripped-down 3D printers are selling for only $200-$300.

The technology has already made quite a splash. As Pittsburgh’s own Gregg Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation, recently pointed out in the Huffington Post, “People are already using 3D printers to make edible food and artificial body parts (what?!).” No kidding. (Read more about those body parts here.)

Since 2011, DIY-ers of all ages have flocked to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh for a chance to play around with the 3D printer in its MAKESHOP. “I’m a big believer that if you provide materials for kids and if you provide them with inspiration and you provide them with mentors, they will be inspired,” Jane Werner, the museum’s executive director, told us last year.

Here are just a few ways 3D printing is inspiring young people’s learning in museums and classrooms around the country.

Print Your Own Dino Bones

Or animal skeletons, or archeological finds from ancient civilizations, or other replicas of artifacts students don’t normally get to touch. At New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, students explore the intersection of paleontology and technology by examining allosaurus bones and using 3D printing to make a model skeleton. “It really taught me how paleontologists reconstruct and study dinosaurs and how they deal with disarticulated bones…and broken bones,” said Jordan, an 8th-grader, in this video about the experience.

Last November, the Smithsonian Institution launched a 3D scanning and printing project that makes more of its treasures accessible worldwide. You can browse the 3D collection, or sign up to be notified about the spring release of Abraham Lincoln: The Mind behind the Mask, a new, interdisciplinary resource for high school teachers that combines 3D images and prints of the two life masks taken of Lincoln—before and after he assumed the presidency—and shows the drastic physical changes he underwent.

Make and Bake

At The Browning School in New York City, kindergartners aren’t just baking cookies—they’re making the cookie cutters, too. Engineering has become part of the curriculum across the grades, from 3D-printed cookie cutters to homemade Lego-style building blocks. You can see photos and video of their work here.

To broaden access to the technology, MakerBot has developed a 3D printing bundle and encourages public school teachers to request it on DonorsChoose.org.

Tinker ‘Til You Get It Right

At Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, California, middle school teacher Christine Mytko runs an afterschool Maker Club and also uses her 3D printer for classroom projects. The Maker Club is a great place to test out a variety of ideas and to keep testing and trying until you get it right. Read about one student’s epic journey to build an iPad stand here. (Mytko was also recently profiled in the Atlantic  about STEAM learning.)

Build Prototypes for Local Businesses

Since 2008, students at Chico High School in Chico, California, have been using 3D printing to build fast, accurate prototypes for local companies, starting with a water bottle lid for Kleen Kanteen. IT instructor Mike Bruggeman now has two 3D printers in his classroom and his engineering and architecture students continue to develop prototypes for other companies. You can read more about their work here.

Win Competitions

At Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, a Catholic school in a Minneapolis suburb, science teacher Timothy Jump leads high school students in Advanced Competitive Science, a three-year program focused on engineering. In 2004 his students won the US Robocup Rescue engineering competition, building an urban rescue robot that outperformed models built by students in prestigious university engineering programs. Having a 3D printer on site cuts down the time involved in creating and testing prototypes, which accelerates student learning. “Students are fascinated by the printer,” Jump said in this case study. “They’re just mesmerized that this technology is even possible.”

And maybe, if your students really get into it, they’ll build themselves an energy-efficient car like the Urbee 2. This electric/methanol hybrid car is built from 3D-printed components, which should eventually make mass production of the vehicle cheaper and more sustainable. In 2015 it will cross the US on less than 10 gallons of gas.

 

Photo/ Don DeBold