Grant helps students think, design, print in 3-D

Boys watch as 3D printer works

Students watched eagerly to see the 3-D printer begin to form their design. Once complete, their project had to be evaluated and possibly redesigned. The process of designing, evaluating and redesigning is one of the valuable lessons students learned in the Technology Education class. Photo by Marlene Colgan

Three-dimensional printers are changing the way scientists and inventors solve problems. They can be used to create prosthetic limbs, replacement parts for many types of equipment, and build small models. Some of the young inventors being impacted by 3-D printers are at Mission Trail Middle School.

Students in Richard Hinderliter’s Technology Education classes got their first taste of 3-D printing this fall thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Olathe Public Schools Foundation. Only one other middle school has a 3-D printer at this time.

“I’d read about the technology of 3-D printing and seen cool projects that students were doing with the printers elsewhere,” Hinderliter said. “The more I found out about them, the more I wanted one for my students.”

He received the grant last fall and four printers arrived in January, giving him time to teach himself how to use them and find a computer-aided drafting program that would be user friendly for his seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“My students like using Tinkercad,” he said. The free, online program allows students to create their own objects from scratch, or find a design made by someone else and modify it to their own tastes.

“The students are so excited to print their designs,” Hinderliter said. “They kept asking when the next Tinkercad day would be.”

Toward the end of the first quarter of the year, students were putting the finishing touches on design projects ranging from a small paddleboat to a chip bag clip. Hinderliter gave students a handful of project ideas at the beginning of the year and let them begin designing, problem solving and redesigning.

“They’re inventing the future through 3-D printing,” Hinderliter said. “The skills these students learn will be used for the rest of their lives and helps make them lifelong learners.”

Hinderliter points out that the basis of Technology Education classes is creativity, experimentation, and problem solving. The 3-D printers address all three. Although the use of 3-D printing is new in his classroom, he envisions the printers being used someday by art students, or those in theatre/stagecraft as well.

“My plan allows students in core classes to use these printers for project-based learning,” he said. “The four printers allow multiple students to work on simultaneous projects. Groups of students can learn from each other in a cooperative learning environment.

“The opportunities that these 3-D printers would provide our students is limited only by their imaginations.”

He hopes to form a group of student experts with significant knowledge about design and printing, and allow those designers to help new students learn printing skills.

“My favorite outcome of having these printers is that students will be inspired to make abstract thoughts into concrete items, learning real-world skills in the process,” Hinderliter said.

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