- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

BUNKER HILL, Ind. (AP) - A mechanical arm repeats the same pattern over and over, dispensing layer after layer of plastic to create the 3-D object designed by Maconaquah Middle School girls in a new enrichment class.

The hum of the 3-D printers is a constant backdrop for the class, which meets for the last 25 minutes of the school day for nine weeks. At least one of the four MakerBot printers in Ron Shaffer’s classroom is usually running, as it can take hours to print one item from the files he or his students create.

“This is pretty cutting edge for a middle school, just the idea of spatial recognition with three-dimensional shapes,” Shaffer, who teaches math and leads the 3-D printing class, told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1CuVkp0 ).

About 20 sixth- through eighth-grade girls signed up for the class this school year. They immediately pull out their laptops and get to work when they arrive for the brief enrichment period. So far, they’ve designed houses and now are working on vases. They use Autodesk, a free 3-D design and engineering software program, to map out the objects they want to print.

The corporation purchased two of the 3-D printers, Duke Energy funded one and the other was purchased through a grant. Maconaquah also has a MakerBot Digitizer, a 3-D scanner that captures an object as a 3-D image that can then be manipulated digitally and used to print replicas.

On Tuesday, Shaffer explained how to start with a two-dimensional shape and then pick an axis to rotate it around to make it three-dimensional. To turn it into a vase, the girls then had to hollow out an area in the center.

“We’re talking about a pretty advanced thing. It took me awhile to figure out too,” Shaffer told the students.

The 3-D printing class is part of Maconaquah School Corp.’s focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and incorporating technology into learning and teaching. Shaffer and Cory Howard, an eighth-grade math teacher, participated in several conferences during the summer that covered lesson planning, STEM curriculum, 3-D printing and scientific research.

They’re looking forward to implementing some of their new ideas this school year, starting with an underwater robotics class and 3-D printing class offered at Maconaquah’s fall institute, which includes weeklong classes students can opt to take during the two-week fall break.

“The idea is that if we want them to think globally, we also have to educate them in a way that’s at that level,” Howard said. “We have to think outside the typical four walls of the classroom and do stuff that’s on the cutting edge of technology if we’re going to get our kids ready for when they graduate.”

Howard and Shaffer wanted to start out working with girls, who are typically the minority in STEM fields. Shaffer said they’ve talked about the issue with representatives from Purdue University. Roughly three-quarters of the undergraduate students who enrolled in Purdue’s colleges of science and technology last fall were male.

“We found out we were going toward a STEM (focus), and a lot of girls are getting pushed back and not going into engineering fields,” Shaffer said. “Having the 3-D printers, we just thought it was a natural fit to give them this chance to shine. It’s been exciting to watch the girls really take to it. They’re empowered to create whatever they want.”

Seventh-grader Summer Thomlison, who said she’s generally good at math and science classes, has enjoyed the 3-D printing class so far. Having only girls in the room has been a plus.

“Boys sometimes won’t stop talking and it’s sometimes annoying,” she said. “It sounded cool to make things on your computer and be able to print it off and hold it in your hand.”

Abby Darnell, who also is in seventh grade, is excited about what she’s learned in the class.

“I thought it would be interesting and cool to learn about how a 3-D printer works and to be able to print stuff,” she said. “It’s been pretty easy, and you get to learn new things that you didn’t know were possible with a 3-D printer.”


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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