Use of 3D Printers Spurs STEM Exploration

A teacher in Washington State is leading the charge to rally students into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields with use of a revolutionary technology: the 3-D printer.

Jeff Miller of Grandview Middle School says the workforce is wide open to those who have high skills in these areas, but students are not jumping on the bandwagon thus far as heartily as hoped for. Jennie McGhan, in an article for the Daily Sun News reports on Miller's idea to bring technology into his STEM classroom.

And, what better way to get students engaged than with a 3-D printer? The idea is for students to draw a design, then recreate it on a computer in 2-D. The computer will then extrude it as a 3-D design. Through the use of the computer-aided design (CAD) file, the design will print in 3-D and the final design will be created in a 5-inch cube. The machine being used in Miller's class is small, but the effect should be fairly dramatic for the students.

The uses of 3-D printers are endless in the technical realm, so this lesson lends itself to allowing students the opportunity of experiencing the technology, as well as showing students which careers use this type of technology.

"STEM programs are geared toward getting students to look long-term at future career possibilities," Miller said. " The hope is to gain a new generation of individuals interested in pursuing engineering as a profession."

The use of 3-D printers is within reach now that the printers are priced at $300 or less, making them more attainable for classroom use. A start-up called New Matter, co-founded by Idealab's Bill Gross and inventor Steve Schell,, is crowdfunding a 35-day campaign for its new printer, the MOD-t, which will be priced at $249.

"My dream is to be the first million-selling 3-D printer and to someday have a printer in every home and in every classroom," Gross said in an email.

James Temple, in an article for Re/Code, says New Matter has developed a two-axis motion system for the build plate which is why it can manufacture the printer with fewer components, but more precision.

"We want to provide users with a highly curated store filled with designs they could print out on their MOD-t," Schell said. "That's what makes us unique from all the other Kickstarters out there claiming to have an inexpensive 3-D printer."

Sarah Buhr, writing for Tech Crunch, has tracked down an experimental education program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is showing middle school students that they are capable of solving problems, even world problems, with the help of 3-D printers and group collaboration.

Saeed Arida, David Wang, and Saba Ghole wrote their dissertation on the theory that kids as young as 13 can work on design and engineering projects which before had been limited to the master's level.

The authors call it a creative-learning program, not an engineering or math-oriented one. This makes students want to be a part of the project and more enthusiastic. During the program, students learn more than just 3-D printing, design and engineering principles.

"We wanted to show people how you can create a school that is different …What the school of the future can look like," says Arida, whose dissertation research at MIT was in creative problem solving and collaboration in K-12.

The experiment, NuVu Studio, is a way to apply their dissertation findings in the real world and to use the classroom as a model for successful collaboration and above grade-level learning .

There are 28 students in the class from public, private and charter schools. Arida and co-founders plan to expand nationwide. Already, 10 other schools have started NuVu classes.

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