After their exciting arrival on campus last spring, Brookwood’s three 3D printers have established an enthusiastic following among students and teachers alike. In Middle School, Grade 5 Math and Science teacher Henry Oettinger has found that his students are often themselves coming up with exciting ways to integrate the technology into their lessons.
“Students are actually teaching the adults how they see 3DP integrating into their lives. We can give them some basic thoughts, but I fully expect to learn from them!” says Henry, who explains that his students have an open invitation to design and print.
Henry underscores that the Middle School’s printer, while amazing, is just one tool among many that allows students access to Design Thinking, an important part of the school’s science curriculum over the past two years.
Design Thinking is a process involving a series of steps that engineering teams of all types use to solve problems. While the order and names of the Design Thinking process steps vary depending on the model being used, the strategy is the same: use critical thinking skills to solve a problem through repetitive design. Each iteration will lead to better ideas and, in the end, a more robust solution. As classrooms have evolved from content-driven to critical-thinking/skills-driven models, Design Thinking as a teaching method has garnered a dedicated following amongst faculty.
The printers are also important, Henry explains, as an introduction to 3D modeling software. This encourages students to “think in new ways,” he says. “For example, thinking about “negative space or taking a part away from a shape to create a new shape.”
Over the summer, science teachers attended a two-day workshop at which about a dozen Brookwood teachers were trained in the use and mechanics of the printers. This core group of faculty now has responsibility for “teaching the teachers” here at school, as well as serving as a resource for students with questions. From the start of the school year projects have taken off in all variety of directions.
Henry explains that on occasion, he will give his fifth graders a random design challenge, usually a real-world problem, to solve. While the students will tackle the issue using a variety of tools, many will propose use of the 3D printer. And they’ve come up with some amazing creations.
For example, in response to the challenge to design and print an object that serves the community, Chase Reynders created a bird feeder that is currently in use near the pond; Sofia Mustone made a spork that was put to the test on a fall camping trip; and Liam King fabricated a Trieste Class submarine. All with the 3D printer.
“Brookwood School is one of the first elementary schools that I know of to implement 3DP into its curriculum; I am thrilled to be a part of this movement, and I am constantly amazed at the ideas generated by my fifth graders.”
When asked what he considers the most exciting aspect of having the 3D printer as part of the classroom, Henry circles back to the notion of student as teacher and kids generating their own ideas on how to tackle a problem or assignment – part of a new teaching concept called the “flipped classroom.”
“One great experience I had with the kids this year was when, after I described the guidelines for our Salt Marsh Organism Poster project (which in the past has required a drawing), several students asked, ‘Can we 3D print our organisms?’ Having never even thought of the option and the initial shock of not knowing how to respond, I realized that 'of course' was the best answer. The highlight of that project was a 3D printed periwinkle snail!”