Eleven schools within the Sweetwater Union High School District, including Bonita Vista High School, received three-dimensional printers from Dremel, a power tools company, before winter break. The printers are on loan for 3 months and when the trial ends, the schools will decide whether or not they will buy the printers to keep permanently.
Dremel is part of the Maker Movement, a project aiming to make schools and other public places into spaces where people can create science and engineering ideas into physical objects. The new 3D printer allows the user to print a product of a model designed through a software prior to printing.
“[The 3D printer is] really helpful in science to make models and prototypes of things. Rather than having to build, weld and put together some huge thing, you can build a smaller, more simple prototype in a 3D printer,” biology and Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Adrienne Marriott said.
Dremel hosted training sessions to inform educators from schools loaned with the 3D printers about the software needed to design models as well as the process of printing the design. Accelerated, AP and International Baccalaureate Biology teacher Michelle Mardahl Ph.D., Biology teacher Keith Dewalt and Chemistry teacher Kimya Mahzad attended a one hour training session and Marriott went to a five hour training.
“The training was really helpful because I knew nothing about 3D printing. The training made it really doable [to design and print models] and now it’s a pretty cool tool,” Marriott said.
Dremel employees taught the teachers how to use the program known as Tinkercad, a free 3D design and printing app used to make toys and prototypes. The teachers also learned how to use basic geometric shapes in combinations to make more complicated objects as well as how to load the file onto the printer.
“[Free software] is really nice, it allows students without access to 3D printers to still be able to create models. Places like Kinkos are starting to get 3D printers, so if you create your own design, you could then take it and have someone print it,” Marriott said.
Students interested in designing models were invited to join the Graphic Design and Engineering Club. The club was created this school year after the arrival of the 3D printer. At one meeting, club advisor Dr. Mardahl taught members how to use the software to design 3D models while Marriott showed the participants the process of printing. Using the new printer, freshman Vice President of the Graphic Design and Engineering Club Tristan Johnson designed and printed the four nucleotides that are found in DNA.
“It’s important [that schools have 3D printers] because it’s a fairly cheap way for the teacher to print out any kind of model or assistance needed in class and it’s not that hard. Teachers can do it on their own without having to purchase something expensive,” Johnson said.
The 3D models are a replacement for previous ones created from paper or cardboard. Another advantage of the 3D printer is that specific topics of a classroom lesson have the potential to be better explained and understood by utilizing physical objects created by the printer for students to touch and see.
“Things like atoms, molecules and DNA, that are helpful to see as 3D models help students understand how they look and work and fit together,” Johnson said. “It’s good to have something [students] can actually hold in their hands and observe to be able to learn easier.”
The 3D printer will not only be used to enhance curriculum and for special projects, but it will also permit students to create their own designs and increase their knowledge in the designing of 3D models.
“You can explore the creativity of students and test their abilities in engineering and graphic designs,” freshman and president of the Graphic Design and Engineering club Isaac Broudy said. “It’s a fun thing to do and it helps out alot with learning.”
The printers are part of a larger project within the district known as the Engineering Science Partnership grant, which aims to incorporate more science and engineering opportunities for students. If at the end of the trial BVH decides to purchase the 3D printer, the cost will be around 1,500 dollars. The decision is ultimately based on the availability of funds. Until then, the 3D printer at BVH gives all students interested, a chance to design anything they can visualize.
“[Having a 3D printer at school gives] students the ability to show that their imagination is anything they can think. They can put together and then just print, just like that. If they can think it they can build it,” Johnson said.