Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

3-D Printer Powers High School Projects

on May 10, 2013

Tanya Roscorla and Paul Williams bring you the story. 

A class at Napa New Technology High School is using a 3-D printer to help visualize concepts such as geometry.

Instead of listening to lectures all the time, students at this high school work on projects so they can really apply what they learn. The combination of projects and technology keeps students excited about learning.

"When you're teaching someone, you get a reward when you see that little like lightbulb light up and they go, 'Oh, I get it,' said Shawn Carlton, Scientific Studies teacher at Napa New Technology High School. "But when you're teaching this way and they build something, and they are so proud of it, and it works, and they didn't think they could actually do that, and now they can, that's really rewarding. That's what a teacher lives for."

In an Algebra and physics class called Scientific Studies, students are using a donated 3-D printer for their projects this year.  

"We can build things now that we could only imagine before." 

He challenged one student to create a hypercube, which is similar to a 3-D cube, but has four or more dimensions.  

"My teacher, Mr. Carlton, he's a big fan of hypercubes," said Addison Williams, a junior at Napa New Technology High School. "I personally am not an expert as to what they are. But he showed me a model on the computer, and he said, 'If you can print this, I'm going to give you extra credit.' So that's what I've set out to do.

Addison and other students design objects in Google SketchUp, run them through a software program called MakerWare and watch as the printer executes their designs with melted plastic.  

"You can actually see and, like, touch and feel what you've created, what you've printed, and it kind of gives you a better sense of what's really going on.”

He and his classmates have already used the 3-D printer to create components for their projects. And in the future…. 

"We're looking at being able to take a series of photographs of someone's head and then model that and be able to actually print a bust of their head," Carlton said. "I mean, how cool would that be?’”

The coolest part of his class is watching students tackle challenges and really own their knowledge of Algebra and physics. 

 "I had a student who was dedicated enough to stay here until 9 o'clock. I mean, where else do you find that? Do you see that in most high schools? No. You see it here, though."


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