Not Your Daddy’s Printer

How a 3-D printer enhances learning in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Darin Petzold

CREDIT Airwolf 3D  XLThink of it, model it, make it – that’s our motto at Serrano Intermediate School’s Tech Academy where we embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education as we transition to Common Core. Our Tech Academy serves 102 7th and 8th grade students and consists of courses in sketch art, computer web design, stop motion animation and modeling design, and woodshop in a classroom equipped with an Airwolf XL 3D printer for manufacturing.

The 3D printer is a critical tool to enhance the learning process in our Tech Academy. It provides vital options that help us move our students forward in developing their creativity, critical thinking,

The 3D printer is a critical tool to enhance the learning process in our Tech Academy.

communication, and collaboration skills needed for success in the 21st century. For instance, this year our students will work collaboratively to create, design and manufacture a full-size, detailed prototype for an innovative product. 

What You Need To Know

First and foremost, the 3D printer is an exciting, cutting-edge technology tool (emphasis on the word “tool”) that we can effectively employ to engage students as we help them explore, learn and understand core principles. It is the perfect complement to our woodshop manufacturing. 

Second, 3D printers are a whole lot slower than laser printers. Manufacturing time can vary from one to seven hours depending on the size and complexity of the design model, which makes full-size models for 30-36 students in a 52 minute class impossible. To address this and keep students engaged, we teach students to design models scaled to miniature size, allowing us to produce more students’ products in a viable timeframe by putting multiple computer models in a matrix for the 3D printer. 

Our 3D printer allows us to produce more intricate and detailed products with a larger variety of material to choose from than we could manufacture in traditional woodshop, which is exciting for our students. For example, our students are making “Mini Me” bots with articulated limbs and detailed heads. Students will create an idea for their bots, sketch out their idea and then make the bots’ bodies and limbs with woodshop tools and create the head with the 3D printer. There are woodshop tools that we just don’t have the time to teach the students how to use safely to produce a detailed head, but we can teach them to design a computer model and program the 3D printer to make it. 

For the full-size prototype project, the students are making a sketch drawing to communicate their idea for everyone to review, then they will vote and select the best idea. The students will then have the opportunity to collaborate on designing the model and manufacturing the selected product for entry into our county’s 2014 Maker Challenge—a collaborative project of Career Technical Education of Orange County that provides an opportunity for local students to participate in an integrated STEM design project. Their challenge is to use 3D modeling and printing to design and build, or significantly repurpose, products that will solve problems, needs or wants. 

Our Tech Academy Process

Think It – Students create a product in their mind and then must be able to communicate it graphically to others. In the art course, students are learning to sketch their ideas utilizing single-point and two-point perspective drawing techniques. Without these art skills, students would not be able to transform their idea into a computer model design for manufacture. Once they have successfully communicated their idea in a drawing, students move on to the next stage of development.

Model It – Our computer course uses “Sketch Up” software to teach students how to design the model for their product to be manufactured. As part of this design process, students will need to use their knowledge of proportion and scale to design their model on a miniature scale. Not to mention being thoroughly engaged as they design a viable computer model.

Make It – Students learn to transfer their computer model to the software that will run the 3D printer to manufacture their product. 

Moving Forward

Our Airwolf XL 3D printer will continue to play an integral part as we move forward into our “STEAM” Academy next year, providing more sophisticated design, modeling, aerodynamics, automation and robotics engineering experiences for our students with the Project Lead the Way curriculum. With the variety of filaments available for our 3D printer, we will also be able to design and manufacture some of the parts that we will need for robotics and other projects. 

Darin Petzold teaches Wood Shop, Tech Academy and Science at Serrano Intermediate School, Lake Forest, California. Write to:

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