A new dimension

Schools acquire 3D printers, expand opportunities
Scott Girard

Photos by Scott Girard. Liam Avila and Lorenzo Fountain take a look at the 3D printer at Savanna Oaks Middle School.

The 3D printer at Badger Ridge prints out a new Verona-themed nameplate teacher Ross Cohen designed.

The 3D printer at Savanna Oaks makes a part of a wind turbine designed by teacher Frank Devereaux.

Graph paper may quickly become a thing of the past in Verona schools.

With four schools around the Verona Area School District obtaining grants for three-dimensional printers this year, the teachers in charge of them are excited about the “endless possibilities” the printers bring for teaching.

And the teachers that acquired the printers for almost no cost — at Savanna Oaks and Badger Ridge middle schools and Stoner Prairie and Glacier Edge elementaries — are jumping at the new teaching opportunities, planning to use the printers for lessons in design, math, engineering and even English.

The printers use a special material (plastic for those in VASD) as their “ink.” The printer layers that material to follow a design that can be made through a number of online computer programs, creating a 3D rendering of anything from a fork to the Eiffel Tower.

“There’s so many creative ways you can use the printer to enhance the student experience,” SOMS teacher Frank Devereaux said.

Starting young

At Stoner Prairie, math resource teacher Karie Huttner has begun working with teachers on how to apply the technology to lessons they are already teaching.

The first group up: kindergarteners.

The technology may initially seem more sophisticated than a 5-year-old can handle, but Huttner said the teachers told her that they’re already teaching the students how two-dimensional shapes become three-dimensional.

This gave Huttner an opportunity to find models of two-dimensional shapes, such as triangles, that click and fold together to form a 3D pyramid.

And while she thinks that’s a great start, she is looking forward to bringing it around to classrooms to show it off to students and teachers and give the students a chance to learn the programming and designing behind the printer.

“When they start to understand it you’ll have those children that will come forward and say, ‘I can design this,’” Huttner said. “Until you see it and what it can print, you don’t realize how powerful it can be.”

For example, Devereaux is going to have a group of Savanna Oaks eighth-graders use the power of the printer to learn about how wind energy creates its own power.

Along with the printer, he was able to have a special “wind tunnel” and Lego kit donated to help him create the project that will have groups of students research, design, print and test custom wind turbines to see how much power their design can produce.

Devereaux also is having his design classes create computer models of their homes to print out.

“Their drawing has never been more detailed,” Devereaux said, noting that for a project in which they designed the SOMS building, they even made sure to include the intercom on the column at the entrance to the school. “It takes something that you have a design in your mind and actually brings it to life.”

Delayed plans

While the possibilities are “endless” long term, at Badger Ridge at least, the use will be limited initially.

Badger Ridge information technology literacy teacher Ross Cohen said the current computer lab computers are not up-to-date enough to work seamlessly with the software the printer requires.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to let it sit around and get dusty, though.

He’s been printing his own creations to get comfortable enough with the machine to teach his students to use it, and feels he just got to that point. He plans to keep experimenting to test its limits and weaknesses, and he hopes to print student projects for those who “put a couple class periods” of work into designing something.

“It’s a hands-on, applicable piece of equipment to get students excited about engineering and geometry,” Cohen said.

At Glacier Edge, second-grade teacher Amy Klubertanz is limited by a different technology – the printer itself. After printing an initial bracelet and a working nut and bolt, which currently sit in principal Theresa Taylor’s office, the machine stopped working because of defective parts.

So Klubertanz is waiting for replacement parts from the printing company and looking forward to using the printer to teach her students programming and building.

The students will also eventually create pieces they can use as “story starters,” Klubertanz said, giving the machine a purpose beyond only the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“In theory, it’s going to be really great,” she said. “(Second-graders) are very concrete thinkers. To be able to take an idea and print it is a completely different experience than they’ve ever had.”

A small investment

In acquiring the four printers, the district became one of few area districts, including the Stoughton Area School District, to have 3D printing capabilities.

But it didn’t take a large investment. The schools spent a total of $150 thanks to outside grants that funded the printers completely, or almost completely, in each situation.

At Savanna Oaks, Devereaux worked with Berbee’s Technology Education Foundation and received $3,500 worth of equipment between the printer and the other equipment for the wind project.

The other three schools went through donorschoose.org, a website for educators to share initiatives and philanthropists to find programs to fund. MakerBot, the maker of the printer, created a program through the website that covered the price of the machine, $2,500, if a group raised $100.

At Badger Ridge, Cohen’s mother, a fellow teacher and a man from New York quickly got him to that total.

Huttner used the school’s tech budget to fund the first $100 of her initiative.

“For $100, how could you not have it?” Huttner asked.

And Klubertanz found an even cheaper deal, with a special offer on the website in which donations were doubled, meaning the printer only cost $50.

All four teachers said the biggest future expense will be the plastic the printers use, much like the expense of ink and paper for regular printers. It’s unknown how they will fund those purchases, but it seems that’s a problem they are all right worrying about when it comes, with four spools coming with each printer initially.

In the meantime, the printers are gaining popularity with teachers and students alike.

“Every kid wants to print something,” Devereaux  said.


What is a 3D printer?
Invented in the mid-1980s, it is a printer that uses plastic, wax, resin, paper, gold, titanium – a whole host of materials – instead of ink to create a solid, three-dimensional object. In much the same way that your desktop printer is directed to print the words in a document, the 3-D printer’s jets, guided by computer-assisted design (CAD) software, create an object by spraying or squeezing one thin layer of material at a time onto the platform, then melding them into place with a precisely directed laser.

As these microscopically thin layers build up, the desired three-dimensional object slowly takes shape.

While 3-D printing is not a fast manufacturing process, it can be highly efficient because there is virtually no wastage. Unlike traditional manufacturing, where material is cut away by machinery or a lathe to create an object, the “additive” process of 3-D printing uses only what is necessary to make the object.

What can you make?
In theory, just about anything…says Jonathan Rowley, design director at Digits2Widgets, a London-based firm that specializes in 3-D printing. “This technology has plenty of wonderful applications. It can be used for everything from dental work to architectural models, jewelry, precision engine parts, spoilers (the wings for Formula One cars), dolls (with custom faces), sunglasses ... The list is endless.”

On a much larger scale, Boeing and Airbus are already making numerous small parts using 3-D printing technology, and some have visions of aircraft-hangar-size printers creating huge sections of wing and fuselage. By 2050, entire planes may be made from 3-D “printed” parts. For the most part, at least at present, 3-D printing is used to make prototypes, to do custom work or for limited production runs.

What kinds of materials can the printers use?
Again, just about anything. In Australia researchers are using 3-D printer technology and living cell tissue to try to “print” nerve endings, muscle cells, and cartilage with the hope that someday they can be fused onto human limbs.

SOURCE: National Geographic News, May 8, 2013

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