Nfld. & Labrador

From whiteboard to final product, 3D printing brings learning alive in Paradise

Technology like 3D printers and design software helps keep tech-savvy students engaged in the classroom, says teacher Jamie Powers.

Grade 6 students at Elizabeth Park Elementary can apply their learning thanks to new tech

Grade 6 teacher Jamie Powers holds a glider, designed by students and made with the 3D printer. Projects like this allow the students to put what they learn into a form they can hold in their hands, he says. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

When Jamie Powers' Grade 6 class learned about flight, they studied drag, lift and Bernoulli's principle. Thanks to a pair of 3D printers now in the learning commons at Elizabeth Park Elementary in Paradise, the students also got to use that knowledge to create customized plastic gliders of their own.

"It's limitless," said Powers of the technology, which came permanently to the school this year thanks to a grant after a 3D printer was loaned last year.

Having the printer, and the software used to design its output, available to the students lets them take the principles of flight they learned in the classroom and put them into action, he said, all while learning about design, collaboration and planning.

"They're actually taking the principles of flight and using it."

'I like creating stuff'

As 3D printers, and the software used to design the objects they print, become more accessible and less expensive, they are finding their way into classrooms. Powers said he believes Elizabeth Park Elementary is the first school in the province to have its own 3D printer, but there is discussion of more schools in the district getting access.

Powers says having the 3D printer in the classroom teaches children not just about technology, but about working together, applying their learning and trying again if their first design doesn't work as planned. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

Students themselves like the technology. Matthew Baker, 11, said the software he was using to build a mock-up of a CBC News van for the 3D printer to create is similar to one he uses at home to play games.

"I think it's really cool. I like creating stuff," Baker said. 

Students create their design on laptops, and the file is used to tell the 3D printer what to make. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The students used software called Tinkercad on Chromebooks to create 3D objects from a variety of shapes, starting with a blank slate and making designs that can be adjusted or customized as needed before being saved and then imported as instructions for the 3D printer, which uses plastic to create their objects.

"It's really cool because you could make, like, anything," said Alicia Chaulk, 11.

Bringing technology to life

Bringing that experience into the classroom is an important way to engage students who are constantly engaged with technology outside of the classroom, Powers said.

"When they come to school, if we're not joining along in this tech world, we've lost them."

Matthew Baker, 11, designs a news van. Students use a software called Tinkercad to make their own designs with various 3D shapes, which they can customize and change as needed. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

The educational benefits don't come only in learning to use the software, he said. When given an assignment to create 3D-printed keychains for Here & Now anchors, the students started not on the computers but on white boards, brainstorming ideas and beginning the design process.

The real point of the learning is not pressing Print on a machine, Powers said, but in learning to apply principles they've learned, to collaborate, to try again if their first design doesn't work out.

Students like Alicia Chaulk, 11, use software on Chromebooks to design their 3D projects. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

"Today we are creating, we're inventing, we're designing, we're planning, we're collaborating, all to get to the final product of 3D printing," he said.

"It's cutting edge for us, and it allows me as a teacher to become a facilitator of all those things."

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