Tag Archives: Science

Putting Science Education Under the Microscope

It turns out teenagers are quite interested in the sciences. Science class, however, is another story.

The results are in from Students on STEM, a science learning survey conducted by the Amgen Foundation and Change the Equation. The researchers asked 1,569 American high school students about their opinions on science and their experiences learning it.

Students are certainly intrigued. Among those surveyed, 81 percent said they were interested in science topics, and biology in particular. Only 37 percent, however, said they liked science class a lot. Other subjects got better reviews.

Asked what would make science class more interesting, the students said hands-on lab experiments, field trips, and projects related to real life. That doesn’t mean traditional science instruction methods—class discussions and teaching from the textbook—lack value. But the responses are a signal that educators need to find ways to bridge the gap between curiosity and pedagogy.

STEM jobs are growing faster than those in other professions, according to Change the Equation. But many American students—particularly racial minorities, low-income students, and girls—do not end up qualified for STEM fields. Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT in 2013 were deemed ready for college-level work in science. In higher education, nearly half the bachelor’s degree students who started with a STEM major between 2003 and 2009 switched to a non-STEM major or dropped out, according to the U.S. Department of Education. As the Students on STEM survey shows, young people are interested in science—but without engaging, accessible learning experiences, that interest wanes and they miss opportunities for success.

Many educators are testing innovative science learning models to make the subjects more engaging and relevant. “Citizen science,” for example, refers to data collection and analysis by regular citizens, sometimes in collaboration with professional scientists. Citizen science projects can involve community members of all ages, but the model can be powerful for young learners who want to find real-world relevance in their coursework.

One such project in California has teenagers measuring air quality in their surroundings. The lessons grew out of a partnership between the Chabot Space and Science Center and UC Berkeley, where scientists were monitoring local air quality for pollutants. The science center has provided teachers with investigative lessons that have students analyzing the scientists’ genuine data or using handheld monitors to track carbon dioxide levels in places they spend their time.

The connection to professional scientists is key. Adult mentors play a critical role in a young person’s education, research shows. Educators and other adults help scaffold youths’ learning experiences and connect them to academic or professional opportunities.

More specifically, the Students on STEM results show that young people crave connection to adults working in fields that interest them. Among those surveyed, 86 percent said it would be helpful to know a professional in their field of interest, but fewer than half do. Low-income students have even less access to science professionals than their more affluent peers. The teens surveyed said loud and clear that they wanted science education to prepare them for opportunities after high school. Early exposure to professionals and the workforce is one solution.

Some programs simulate science workplace experiences. The Citizen Science Lab in Pittsburgh, for example, offers Hill District high school students the chance to test out a job in the pharmaceutical industry for a summer. The students earn a stipend to learn the process of drug design and computational modeling of proteins over the course of a month.

Other ideas laid out in the Students on STEM report are more straightforward. Respondents said it would be helpful to have greater access to career counseling, more classes related to future jobs, and relevant organizations on campus. The number of students who said they had access to such opportunities was far lower than the number who said they wanted it.

The researchers say businesses and schools can partner to get cutting-edge equipment into classrooms or job fairs on campus. Districts can support teachers by providing professional development opportunities that introduce them to innovative science learning practices. (The Amgen Foundation, which commissioned the report, provides biotech equipment and teacher training to schools.)

It is clear from the survey that young people know what they need to become engaged science learners and future science professionals. It is up to adults to make it happen.

An Age-Old Push for Science Literacy, With New Tools

Back in the 1990s, a group of private and public officials and academics joined forces in support of nationwide science literacy. The benefits of a strong science education were manifold, they said, with important applications in civic life and the workforce.

“In learning science, students describe objects and events, ask questions, acquire knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test out those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others,” wrote the people who eventually developed National Science Education Standards, guidelines for K-12.

The great questions of the future—how to manage and share the world’s natural resources, say—would demand decision-makers with strong scientific training, they said. Even students who weren’t destined for such positions of power would be most successful in any field if they were science-literate.

“The business community needs entry-level workers with the ability to learn, reason, think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems,” the authors wrote.

Sound familiar? Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

But in the 21st century, an era of entrepreneurship and global competition, these skills may be even more valuable. For those growing up in an age of melting ice caps and other climate concerns, science education can produce a sense of urgency and curiosity that leads young people to examine their surroundings through a critical lens.

Our contemporary calls for learning that breeds innovation and critical thinking echo those of the past.

A few years ago, an effort similar to the one in the 1990s yielded the Next Generation Science Standards. Sixteen states have adopted the standards, and most others have expressed interest in them. They urge the teaching of classic science concepts, only with a bit more context—an effort to encourage students to pursue careers in the field. That means teaching underlying ideas that span all science subjects, as well as teaching the practices of scientists and engineers.

“Science literacy” is a broad term, but at its core is inquiry. Students who learn science are encouraged to question how the world works, why natural phenomena occur, and what information is trustworthy. Take the scientific method, that step-by-step process most kids learn around fifth grade. At first glance it is a rote process to be memorized. But it trains young learners to devise questions and make observations, eventually putting informed hypotheses to the test through technical experiments.

The fundamental purposes of science education have not changed much in recent decades. What has changed are the tools available to stoke young people’s curiosity and help them search for answers. Bunsen burners and nature documentaries are now supplemented with uncanny visualizations and robotics kits.

Take Maker Camp, soon to be in its fifth summer. The partnership between Google and Make: magazine leverages video-chat technology to give any teenager with an internet connection a sneak peak into the practices of professional scientists and engineers. One year, participants took a virtual field trip to NASA, where they got to watch a telescope being assembled live.

Elizabeth Babcock, public engagement officer and dean of education at the California Academy of Sciences, has explained that digital technology has become part and parcel of her institution’s science literacy programming. A photosynthesis visualization at the academy brings visitors on a virtual journey through the molecules in a redwood tree. In other cases, digital media initiate genuine engagement, giving learners a more active role in their own science education, Babcock told Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning. After learning about the science and dangers of plastics, teenagers in an academy afterschool program launched a social media campaign to educate their peers.

When employed right, digital tools can support critical inquiry and give students immersive access to the vital issues of the day. That’s been the worthy goal of science education since its start, and one that is all the more urgent today.

Anyone who follows national politics knows that there are big barriers to widespread science literacy. Political and religious interest groups have worked to ban climate change curricula in several states and to prohibit officials from speaking about it publicly. A Yale study found that social consequences of caring about climate change, not a lack of scientific understanding, were the main cause of adults’ apathy about the topic.

That’s particular cause for developing science literacy at a young age. Information saturation, political interests, and societal forces are all at play in the adult world. Before they enter it, young learners need the capacity to parse through information, ask thoughtful questions, and act on the answers.


Pittsburgh Students Rise to the Challenge of Addressing World Water Crises

In March, students from four Pittsburgh area high schools came together for a two day Water Design Challenge. Hosted at the University of Pittsburgh‘s William Pitt Union and supported by a Hive Grant from The Sprout Fund, students were asked to brainstorm to raise awareness about real world water crises. Emily Stimmel shared this story on the Kidsburgh blog.

The problem: raising awareness about real world water crises. The problem-solvers: 55 students in grades nine through 12 from four local high schools.

In March students from Chartiers Valley, Elizabeth Forward, McKeesport and Mt. Lebanon high schools participated in a 2-day Water Design Challenge at University of Pittsburgh’s William Pitt Union. The activities were designed to inspire students to think as local and global citizens and consider the social and environmental implications of something most of us take for granted—water.

Though the project was multidisciplinary in scope incorporating social studies, world language, science and technology–and drawing faculty and students from all four schools–it was pioneered by Mt. Lebanon High School social studies teacher Tina Raspanti. After reaching out to Veronica Dristas, the assistant director of outreach at Pitt’s Global Studies Center, for help in developing a global studies program geared to high schoolers, she felt inspired.

“She told me to dream big,” Raspanti says. So, with a team of likeminded Mt. Lebanon High School teachers, Raspanti approached The Sprout Fund for a grant from its Hive Fund for Connected Learning and the group immediately got to work setting the project in motion.

With funding, Raspanti and her team were able to cover the costs of food, transportation and overnight accommodations offering an “equal playing field for all school districts.” Because no single school was responsible for footing the bill, students from the four schools had equal access to the Water Design Challenge leading to a more diverse, innovative pool of ideas. “It was great to see how they melded together,” says Raspanti, noting that “think globally, act locally” became the teams’ shared motto.

Students engaged in brainstorming sessions and evaluated their ideas using the concepts of human-centered design thinking championed by the event’s facilitator Pete Maher of LUMA Institute. Ultimately, the judges selected two winners—one presenting a local solution and the other a global one.

Make it Rain, the winner in the category of local solutions, promoted a rain barrel system that offers tax credits to residents who use it to water their lawns, encouraging conservation through financial incentives. In the global category, Women 4 Water created a detailed website describing how far women in developing nations walk to retrieve potable water. The average distance was six kilometers, so the all-female team chose a 6K race as the vehicle for raising awareness of the issue while generating funds to support these women.

Students weren’t instructed to use specific tools or methods for awareness-raising, but they naturally gravitated towards social media with most of the groups setting up simple websites and mock online fundraising campaigns.

They also weren’t asked to recruit the next cohort of participants, but they’ve eagerly taken on the task. Though the pilot project focused on water, the essential element of the Challenge is uniting a diverse group of students to collaboratively solve a problem. With Water Design Challenge as a model for future Challenges, the teens who participated in the pilot project are brainstorming the next topic and spreading the word to their peers. With additional funding, Raspanti hopes to develop the project into an annual event uniting diverse groups of students from schools across the region.

Picturing a New STEM Workforce

Close your eyes. Now picture a scientist. Do you see a white man, maybe cloaked in a laboratory coat, with his hair in wild disarray? If so, you’re hardly alone.

In 1957, Margaret Mead and Rhoda Bubendey Métraux had 35,000 high school students write essays describing their perceptions of a scientist. Nearly everyone’s descriptions matched the one above. Then in 1983, David Wade Chambers developed the Draw-a-Scientist Test (DAST), which asked participants to do just that. In the initial study, 5,000 students were tested, and only 28 girls drew a female scientist. In the last three decades, the test has been administered many times to participants of different ages, races, genders, and nationalities. The results are almost always the same.

In reality, science and other STEM fields are not quite as homogenous as they are on DAST paper. The presence of women and people of color is thankfully a bit higher than it typically is in these studies. But not by much. Last year, Google released its demographic data, confirming suspicions about the makeup of its workforce. As of June 2014, Google employees were 70 percent male and 91 percent white or Asian. A US Census Bureau study from 2011 found that although women composed almost one-half of the nation’s workforce, they composed only one-quarter of STEM professionals.

How do prevalent images of scientists—in our minds, on paper, in the media—relate to the reality of STEM fields?

“Inoculating the perception of a scientist is tantamount to fixing the leaky STEM pipeline,” wrote Ainissa Ramirez in Edutopia last month. Her claim is a bold one, and it’s not quite substantiated. Nobody can say for sure whether our stereotypes of scientists are caused by—or help perpetuate—the demographic makeup of STEM. A child asked to draw a particular type of professional will produce an image of the type of person she, consciously or subconsciously, believes belongs in the field.

Some studies suggest exposure to diversity in a field positively affects perception and stereotypes. A DAST study in 2014 involved undergraduate students taking a class on science education methods and graduate students studying science education. The scientists in the graduate students’ drawings were less likely to be white (66 percent versus 95 percent) or male (70 percent versus 90 percent) than those in the undergraduates’ drawings. The graduate students were immersed in the field, and their awareness of female colleagues may have influenced their perceptions.

In 2013, two researchers compared the gender makeup of those enrolled in high school physics (a nonmandatory, higher-level science class) with that of STEM workers from the same communities. They found that “the male advantage in high school physics is significantly smaller or nonexistent in schools situated in communities where more women are employed in STEM professions.” Again, they acknowledged there’s no evidence for causation here, but they wrote, “In communities where a higher percentage of working women are employed in STEM occupations, larger gender stereotypes at the societal level may be subverted by a picture of what is possible that differs from that typically associated with more traditional gender roles.

More role models and other women working in STEM fields might be a powerful “fix” to the imbalance. Research has shown that when people fear they’re living up to stereotypes of them—such as “women aren’t good in math”—it affects their performance. First identified by C. M. Steele and J. Aronson in 1995 in a now famous study, “stereotype threat” causes members of a group to worry that their poor performance will confirm the perceived negative stereotype about their group. This threat can cause stress that undermines performance. Further, consistent exposure to stereotype threat, like that of women in math and science, can lead them to no longer value the subject or choose not to pursue it further. The resulting poorer performance induced by stereotype threat can create a feedback loop that convinces girls that, indeed, they are not smart enough for STEM courses.

In Pittsburgh, many organizations have long worked to combat disparities in STEM by introducing students to role models and pathways into STEM fields. The Carnegie Science Center runs Tour Your Future, a program that introduces girls to female professionals in a range of STEM careers. STARTup SOMETHING, a program through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, pairs at-risk youth with mentors at tech companies. In addition, high school students throughout the region join Girls of Steel, a competitive female robotics team that has competed in international tournaments. Hosted and supported by Carnegie Mellon University, the team welcomes applicants of all financial levels from the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Scientists—and engineers, mathematicians, and technologists—look alike, on paper and on TV, as well as in most offices and laboratories. Groups like those in Pittsburgh are working hard to show our future professionals that this doesn’t need to be the case.

The Artificial Line Between Science and Art

Everyone, from oil execs to President Obama, has called for stronger education in STEM. After all, there’s a shortage of people prepared for the tech and engineering jobs crucial for our economy’s well-being.

But those employed in STEM fields are sometimes the strongest advocates for education in the humanities.

“Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science,” wrote Loretta Jackson-Hayes in her recent Washington Post op-ed. The chemist and professor issued a call for liberal arts training alongside STEM skill building.

Her viewpoint is shared by many of tech’s trailblazers. Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

The communication skills fostered by a liberal arts education are invaluable in STEM careers, Jackson-Hayes said. She has to be able to clearly articulate her research in journal articles, and she brings her chemistry students to conferences where they must effectively and compellingly describe their work.

Jackson-Hayes quoted David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University: “‘Many of us never received the education in the humanities or social sciences that would allow us to explain to nonscientists what we do and why it is important.’” The lack of communication skills among STEM professionals could breed a vicious cycle. Without interesting or clear writing about the sciences, students may not be inspired to pursue the subjects.

Some graduate institutions in STEM fields are slowly embracing the logic of interdisciplinary learning. In 1987, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai began guaranteeing admission to high-performing college sophomores studying humanities and social sciences. The students in the experiment, who weren’t required to take premed courses or the MCAT, ended up doing as well as the typical students at the med school. And starting this year, all prospective doctors will take a revamped version of the MCAT with new questions on population health, ethics, and psychology. Whether a student ends up as a heart surgeon or a podiatrist, knowledge in these areas is important for anyone who works with people under sensitive circumstances. A liberal arts education based on questioning, critical thinking, and social awareness helps develop empathetic and compassionate professionals.

Jackson-Hayes, like Jobs, is clearly not dismissing the recent emphasis on STEM education. She’s simply cautioning against promoting it exclusively, or to the detriment of creativity.

We’ve written on the value of turning STEM into STEAM (the “A” stands for “art”). The maker movement is emblematic of this harmony. Maker education teaches technology skills—with a heavy dose of tinkering, experimentation, and creativity. We’re also proponents of design thinking in schools, where students are encouraged to solve complex problems while tuning into the desires and needs of the people who will use them.

In Pittsburgh, many initiatives and schools have long taken an interdisciplinary approach to learning, melding tech and science education with the arts to build critical and systems thinking skills. Hear Me combines tech tools with storytelling, so youth participants can get decision makers to listen to them. At the Labs at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, teens have open and guided access to an array of digital tools and a studio space. The Institute of Play brings game design to the classroom, because dull, standardized STEM lessons don’t cultivate an engaged and innovative citizenry or workforce.

STEM education, whether in elementary schools or graduate institutions, can open its arms to the liberal arts without sacrificing any of the skill building necessary for our future workforce.

The Gap in Sparking STEM Interest

When media reports dive into the impending shortage of STEM workers, they often pose the question, “How do we get more kids to pick STEM majors, and stick with them?” Better qualified teachers, more hands-on learning, and earlier introduction are all tossed around as potential pieces to a solution.

But there’s another aspect to the pipeline of workers heading into STEM fields: Low-income kids, who make up almost one-half of US public school students, too often are shortchanged on STEM classes.

There’s also a startling gap between the quality and availability of STEM courses between schools with a large population of minority students and those without. Only 65 percent of high schools with large minority populations offer Algebra II, compared with 82 percent of high schools with small minority populations, according to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Only three in 10 African American students who are likely to succeed in advanced-placement math—a gateway to engineering careers—take the course. This disparity stems from both a lack of both education access and personal confidence, according to Change the Equation.

There’s also a disparity between STEM education in rural and urban or suburban areas. The Carsey Institute found that suburban and urban schools offer, on average, three to four more advanced mathematics classes than rural schools do.

“Rather than trying to squeeze a few more STEM students from populations that can already choose STEM if they want to, perhaps policymakers should focus even more on giving currently underserved populations the ability to make a STEM choice in the first place,” wrote Andrew J. Rotherham, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners.

Some groups and schools are working to close the gap. McKinley Technology Education Campus in Washington, D.C., offers specialized classes in biotechnology, engineering, information technology, and mass media technology with a hands-on, project-based curriculum. The high school is a Title I STEM magnet school, with approximately 6 of every 10 students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

As Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, told PBS Newshour in a story on McKinley, it’s all about familiarity: Offer a STEM class and students can begin to imagine a future in science, engineering, or math.

Based here in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab expands access to STEM courses for low-income and rural areas with its satellite locations throughout West Virginia. To date, it has partnered with three universities to reach 47 schools in the region, one-half of which have majority low-income student bodies.

One of those satellite locations is the June Harless Center, which brings CREATE technology and training to rural teachers. This summer, the center also hosted three Arts & Bots camps in Mingo County where kids built moving, blinking robots with juice bottles and paper-towel rolls.

We wrote about Mingo Central Comprehensive High School last year, which is in the heart of a region that’s been hit hard by the recession and the decline of the coal industry. By partnering with the CREATE Lab, students in the area are exposed to cutting-edge learning materials like GigaPan cameras and Arts & Bots curriculum.

“It’s tough to show the kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to use this somewhere,’ when they’ve never seen that job,” Richard Duncan, Mingo County STEM coordinator, told me in January. “That’s why we’ve been pulling on the CREATE Lab and our other partners, because we want the kids to see what else is going on outside of this area.”

As we build up the pipeline of future STEM candidates, it will remain critical that we don’t inadvertently shut a door on any child’s future.


What Can Kids Learn from the Sochi Olympics?

There’s one uniting factor in the Olympics that transcends nations, politics, and even sports. When people sit down to watch the games, whether they’re old or young, no matter what country they’re from, one thing goes through their minds is “How do they do that?”

It’s a rare opportunity when an event on TV naturally spurs so much intense curiosity about tiny details of physics, engineering, and math. For that reason, the Sochi Olympics might be the most educational event on the tube all year. The National Olympic Committee has essentially built a $51 billion lab where innumerable cool science demonstrations can happen. That’s pretty far beyond most schools’ science budgets, making the winter games an extra chance to pique kids’ interests in STEM.

First up are the athletes who make mastering the forces of physics on ice look easy—figure skaters.

“There’s no better example of physics than on an ice skating rink. It’s a wonderful place to see science,” says Brad Orr, head of the physics department at the University of Michigan, in a video that’s part of NBC’s video series “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.”

For example, Orr explains that for any object to be balanced, its center of mass has to be directly above its point of support. A figure skater’s center of mass is near his or her hips, which have to remain directly above his or her skates at all times, otherwise the skater will wobble. Easier said than done when you’re flying through the air!

NBC Learn and NBC Sports, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, have put together the video series which explores the science, technology, engineering and math on display at the games.  And the National Science Teachers Association has provided accompanying lesson plans and activities.

The series also points out that when the snowboarding half pipe event kicked off in 1998, the walls of the half pipe were only about half as high as they are now. Over time, engineers have designed the half pipe’s walls to be higher and the radius to be larger, letting snowboarders like Shaun White go higher and faster while simultaneously reducing the forces on their bodies.

Of course, the skills used to figure out velocity and momentum don’t just come in handy every four years. Physics and engineering are around us everyday—in bridges, cars, and manufacturing. But science and math are on display in such a thrilling way at the games it’s likely to get kids asking questions.

A close third for the most nail-biting event behind figure skating and snowboarding is definitely curling. Well, not really. But even curling can heighten any Olympic fan’s curiosity. How does brushing in front of the rock really make a difference in how far it slides?

“In sweeping in front of the ice here, you are bringing the temperature of the ice up and that reduces the friction, but you’re also creating a thin film of a quasi-liquid type [of] material,” says curling expert Mark Shegelski of the University of Northern British Columbia in a Scientific American interview from the last Olympic games. “This is something that is not fully agreed upon by everybody, but the work that we’ve done strongly supports the idea that the key thing going on is the friction that is due to the thin liquid film.”

Speaking of friction, it’s a bobsledders number-one enemy. CBS News delved into how engineers from BMW, Dow Chemical Company, and Protostar Engineering gave the old bobsled model a complete overhaul for this year’s games using 3D imaging, wind tunnel testing, and carbon fiber materials. All together, their innovations trimmed 15 pounds off the two-man bobsled—which allowed the BMW engineers to add back that weight more strategically (they still had to meet minimum weight requirements).

STEM careers are projected to grow 17 percent by 2018 (compared with 9.8 percent for non-STEM jobs), and we’re facing a major shortage of qualified workers. A recent report from the nonprofit group ACT analyzed data from 1.8 million teens and found the overall interest level in STEM is actually pretty high, but the intent and skills needed to actually pursue a career is still low.

That’s why building on things kids are already interested in—like the Olympics—and matching those interests with hands-on opportunities is a great way to demonstrate the real ways STEM impacts our world.

Common Sense Media has this great guide for finding other teachable moments in the games. As curious as kids are about how sports work, equally as intriguing is the political backdrop to the games, not to mention all the hard work and perseverance on display. Talking with kids about how athletes got to the games, as well as the controversies and advertisements, makes them savvy watchers and critical thinkers—definitely gold-medal skills.


Photo / Atos International

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