Chester County teachers think outside the (3-D printed) box

Next school year, a group of Chester County teachers will not only help their students think outside the box, they’ll probably print the box they’ll be thinking outside of. This past week, the select group of teachers spent a couple of days this summer learning about the cutting-edge concept of 3-D printing, so they could take what they’ve learned back to their schools and introduce the technology to their students. This fall, after-school 3-D printing clubs will be available for students in grades 5, 8 and high school. Global Career Development Facilitator Abby Brunson is heading up this part of the technology initiative. “In Chester County, our teachers are preparing the students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. And how do we go about that? Technology is the answer, and Dr. Slayman, our Superintendent is very proactive in introducing new technologies to the district,” Brunson said. At their groundbreaking, Giti Tire announced themselves as ready to partner with the school district in promoting learning and technology and in, fact, announced the creation of the Giti Math and Science Award. At the Giti groundbreaking in February, Giti Tire executive chairman Dr. Enki Tan announced, “the students of the Chester County School District have unique talents and abilities that, when nurtured, will lead graduates to bright futures and diverse careers. “We are looking forward to working with the school district to help ‘Guide and Inspire Tomorrow’s Innovators’ in the science, math and engineering fields.” He explained during the competition for the award, teams from each of the schools in the district will be given a specific problem to solve and will then present a solution to the problem in the annual competition, which begins in fall 2015. The winning teams, one from an elementary, middle and high school in the district, will receive a trophy and an award. A Giti Tire release stated, ‘both the Chester County School District and Giti Tire are committed to Guiding & Inspiring Tomorrow’s Innovators and are eager to begin this progressive program in fall 2015.’ This year, the vehicle for running this competition will ride on 3-D printed wheels, Brunson said. “Giti Tire and Dr. Slayman and district spokesperson Brooke Clinton came up with the idea that the Giti Math & Science Award would be a 3-D printing competition,” Brunson said. “We formed a team to organize this and when we talked to the principals of the schools, they were overwhelmed; they simply didn’t know enough about 3-D printing to organize teams or even formulate a project,” Brunson said. Enter Discovery Place Education Studio, a science museum/educational company from Charlotte. Discovery Place staffers organized a 3-D printing workshop, where the teachers who will advise in the 3-D printing clubs that will be started at every school (with a limit of seven club members) first learned about 3-D printers by building one from kits. “Discovery Place really praised the school district for the way we’re going about this; we’re not just buying a $5,000 3-D printer, we’re starting with the basics. Each team of teachers is learning how to build the printer, so if something goes wrong with it they’ll know how to repair it,” Brunson said. “Once the teachers have the printers in their classrooms and have played with them a little bit (the teachers got to take the printers home to experiment with a bit), we’re going to form the clubs and teams at each school, and the elementary grades will compete against each other, as will the middle school grades and the high school grades,” Brunson said. “Giti officials will be judging the competitions,” she said. “These sorts of competitions and introduction of the technologies will help our students take these skills they’re going to learn and be able to think outside the box, and use those skills for any job, eventually,” Brunson said. There will be one 3-D printer and a two-teacher team familiar with the technology in each of the county’s schools. The Chester County Career Center already has their own 3-D printer that they have been using. Brunson said the printers will be the province of the 3-D printing clubs. They are not integrated into the classroom curriculum – yet. Brunson said the teachers are as excited as kids with a new toy, or as one teacher put it, “their inner nerd has taken over,” Ask the teacher who has one. The possibility of what can be done with the 3-D printers in the classroom is what excites LHS teacher Johnnie Catoe. He was learning how to put together one of the 3-D printers. “The idea is if we put them together, we are better able to troubleshoot them and keep them running,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to our design challenge with the Giti Tire folks. There are still a lot of questions about what form that will take, because we are essentially creating our own challenge. At the high school level our challenge will be to design the most efficient wind turbine to generate the most electricity.” Catoe admits he knew “next to nothing” about 3-D printers before this initiative began. “I kind of knew what the concept was, that the printer basically melts the plastic and lays it down in layers (to create a three dimensional object),” he said. He envisions 3-D printers eventually being used at the classroom level. For example in his own science discipline, he envisions students studying the circulatory system being able to print out a 3-D model of a human heart detailed enough to show the chambers inside of it. Or in social studies, if a students are studying the White House, they can print out a 3-D model of the building. Need a model of a geometric solid in math? Why draw it when you can print out a 3-D version of it, Catoe points out. “The focus for right now is going to be on these specialized after-school clubs, with the idea in the future how can we integrate the 3-D printer technology into the classroom, or use the products that will come out of the 3D printers. I’m not sure which will get the most use, but we’ll learn as we go along,” he said. Joel Bonasera with Discovery Place said he’s seen other school districts where the 3-D printers start appearing at the high school level. “The big shift we’re seeing now is more and more elementary and middle schools getting into it. Union County deployed three printers in all of their middle schools last year. But for an entire school district to deploy them on this level like Chester County is doing, this is unique and a very smart and progressive approach for this whole process,” he said.