Everyone knows kids love to make things. At Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, students In Mr. Brian Hoffman’s 7th grade Modeling and Design class get to see items they design on a computer produced right in their own classroom using a 3-D printer. Bauer and Bauer Orthodontics and Dentistry generously donated one 3-D printer to each of CUSD 200’s four middle schools in 2017. The Student Excellence Foundation helped facilitate this gift, providing hands-on learning for District students. One of several units in the class’ curriculum, 3-D printer design is a favorite.
Students are engaged and excited as they learn to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to design a magnet, backpack hangtag, or other small item in 3-D. They use problem-solving skills, math, engineering, and creativity to create a design incorporating shape and size, plus lettering. They must consider how the design elements will work together as well as whether their design can be successfully executed by the special printer.
Once a student’s design is checked by Mr. Hoffman, it is sent electronically to the 3-D printer, which actually “builds” the item using different colors of thick plastic thread that’s fed through a heated nozzle. The nozzle passes back and forth over a platform and very gradually builds up melted plastic to make the shape the student designed. Each item takes about an hour to produce. Each middle school in District 200 has at least one 3-D printer.
The 3-D printers enhance students’ learning. “As students learn the CAD (computer aided design) program, they can then make something to print out, which gives them a tangible product at the end instead of just having some kind of abstract digital thing,” says Mr. Hoffman. “The kids love it. It’s a draw; it pulls them in.”