- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Strange noises can be heard coming from Robert Taverner’s classroom at Nickerson High School. They’re robotic, sprite-like, digital and sometimes a little hokey.

If the noises get too annoying, Taverner can shut them off, but he has rather grown to like them. They’re coming from the school’s new 3-D printer, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1CoGPn8 ) reports.

“It’s changed the way we teach,” he said.

For the last 14 years Taverner has been working to build up the Nickerson drafting program. He said advances in technology have allowed his students to learn more about constructs on a much more tangible level.

“This allows students to gain a spatial understanding,” he said.

The 3-D printer, faster computers and better computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs have also allowed his students to cover more material.

His drafting classes, which hold 12 students per section, are full, and interest seems to be going up.

“I’ve been interested in 3-D printing,” said Eric Danks, a senior who has taken drafting courses for the last three years. “It was awesome that I got to use one before I graduated.”

Using what he learned in drafting, said Danks, he hopes to find a career in computer animation, which requires a skill set similar to what is taught in CAD classes.

This is the first semester the printer has been implemented in the classroom. Taverner and his students are still in a trial-and-error phase figuring out the basics of 3-D printing.

“This is completely brand new for them and for me,” he said. “It’s kind of an exciting time. Now I can retire. I’ve finally got the program the way I want it.”

Their printer, a MakerBot Replicator, cost the district approximately $2,500. Taverner said it was worth every cent.

Printing one micron (a millionth of a meter) at a time, the printer uses plastic filaments to generate new objects.

“It’s very ‘Trekkie,’ ” he said.

The classes have printed geometric objects, scale-model buildings, working cogs, light-switch covers and even some figurines. The filaments come in a variety of colors. Taverner’s classroom has a selection of gray, white, blue, black and purple. Depending on the size of the object, the printer can build a construct in as little as a few minutes.

Right now, the printer is being used solely by the drafting class. However, Taverner said, Nickerson is planning to use the printer in other classes such as art and entrepreneurship.

Adam Morales, a senior, used the printer to build a scale model of the Millennium Falcon from “Star Wars.”

Morales said he plans to have his own 3-D printer one day.

The process has been around since the 1980s on an industrial scale, but only recently has it become popular for consumers to purchase and use.

Cody Heitschmidt, marketing director at ESSDACK, said they receive inquiries from school districts on a daily basis.

“It gives kids the ability to make the process real,” he said.

ESSDACK develops educational content and curricula for schools, and is also a vendor of 3-D printers.

Heitschmidt said ESSDACK has already supplied several schools in Kansas and Oklahoma with printers. Nickerson was one of those schools.

Heitschmidt said the company has also developed a multitude of curricula for the printers, ranging from engineering and robotics to business and art. ESSDACK also offers workshops to help teachers learn more about the printers. Other departments are also finding uses for the printers, he said. Heitschmidt said maintenance departments have told ESSDACK they are using the printers to make replacement parts.

“It’s growing immensely,” he said. “It’s a piece of equipment that’s in demand right now. We have the luxury to be able to help with that.”

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Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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