3D printing is magic. Put a 3D printer in any classroom, switch it on, let it print and something happens that teachers have tried to achieve forever: the whole classroom becoming transfixed on what it is, what it does, and whether they can have a go. Genuine interest abounds, even with students normally disinterested in DT.
It was probably this way with the first pneumatics DT workshop and the first-time students saw a big old vacuum former in action. 3D printing is just downright interesting, and The Children’s Center for Communication and Beverly School for the Deaf (CCCBSD) have been using this fact to bring down learning barriers in their own workshops for deaf and hard of hearing students.
3D printing at CCCBSD
At CCCBSD, 3D printing is being used to engage students who require an alternative learning platform to succeed. Deaf and hard of hearing children are already supported with sign language, cochlear implants, and hearing aids, but design can get lost in translation and in many cases, students can become disinterested in a subject. 3D printing makes learning a physical, real thing, which helps immensely.
“3D printing has helped engage our students with their own ideas and has fostered and encouraged them to think independently about what they would like to build,” says Janice Coughlin, the Assistive Technology Specialist at CCCBSD, “My focus is to find an avenue that will help augment their knowledge, access to all of our resources and increase independence and confidence.”
The CCCBSD also has students with physical and mental health challenges, including cerebral palsy, and autism. Janice has found 3D printing a perfect platform for engaging these students and giving them confidence to achieve great things.
Bringing Ultimaker to the party
The team at CCCBSD looked into the 3D printer market and the various technologies available. They wanted 3D printers that were easy to use, reliable, safe and affordable. With the help of CCCBSD’s IT Specialist Joe Sharamitaro, the school chose an Ultimaker 2+ and later an Ultimaker 3 for their learning workshops. These printers satisfied their criteria and also printed a wide range of materials. More materials = more opportunities.
One of the first projects the team worked on was 3D printing a key guard for an assistive technology product. The keyguard overlaps over a series of pictures a bit like a keyboard, to help students isolate their index finger. This is useful for students who need to communicate by tapping icons and letters on a tablet computer.
Buying in the key guard would have cost CCCBSD $41.95 plus shipping. 3D printing the same product cost just a few dollars. They also 3D printed a switch and tablet stands.
Of course, students are the main beneficiaries of the 3D printers. They get to model designs from STEAM materials which get translated into 3D images and then printed. The ability for students to take the ideas in their heads and transform them into three dimensional objects has been invaluable for student development.
“They sharpen their math skills and design skills using CAD software like Tinkercad too, which allows students to then move their pieces to art for an activity creating a painting or developing a design for a well-rounded curriculum,” says Janice.
By introducing 3D printing to the classroom, CCCBSD has brought out the creativity living inside of students. The strongest reaction to 3D printing among students is amazement, according to Janice. Students don’t just enjoy seeing and using 3D printers – they also enjoy watching time lapse videos of the printing process, replaying print jobs, and seeing how layers are built up to create a solid object.
“The simple process of seeing something that is one dimensional and developing a 3D version that can be touched, manipulated, and developed from an idea or an existing repository of items is amazing,” says Janice, “It increases math and spatial skills, extending our STEAM efforts to see what is possible when imagination and technology work together.”
With students and teachers at CCCBSD enjoying the benefits of 3D printing, further investment in the technology is surely not far away.