Several months ago, the teachers and students at Helix Charter High School were given a unique learning opportunity: the chance to experiment with the device known as the 3D printer.
Thanks to the efforts of Helix’s teachers and the website known as DonorsChoose, there are now three 3D printers on the Helix campus: one in Room 210, one in Room 1880, and one in the library.
The DonorsChoose website allows people to directly donate to schools and classroom projects. It was here that Helix got its printers, as GIS and AutoCAD Computer teacher Jennifer Bullock, better known as Mrs. J, said.
“I was informed by Ms. S that DonorsChoose was giving them away. And I thought, why not, it would be cool to let the students see new technology,” Bullock said.
This particular kind of technology definitely isn’t the kind one generally sees on the average high school campus.
“I think a couple high schools have them around the county, but mostly college level institutions have them. I think we are probably one of the only campuses that have three on campus,” Bullock claims.
But where one printer would have been a great enough gift for Helix, three is real special treat.
“I took all of fifteen minutes to write up a lesson plan on DonorsChoose, and then I got it. I sent out an All Staff email and told other teachers to do the same,” Bullock said.
The 3D printers were quite a bargain at the price of free. Although 3D printers have become more mainstream in the past few years, they’re not exactly cheap.
“3D printers are pretty expensive right now. Mine is pretty basic and would have cost us $2700 if I didn’t win it, so the price point is still pretty high,” Bullock explained.
And that’s how Helix came to possess three of these marvels of machining. And the best part is that, as librarian Christina Potter explained, pretty much anyone can use them.
“Students who are passing all their classes may print an object on the library’s 3D printer. About forty students so far have used our printer, and we have a long waiting list!”
As Bullock says, being able to use these 3D printers is definitely a privilege and an interesting kind of reward.
“Right now I use it as an incentive to get work done quickly. I am letting students who do excellent work print. I think it’s better than bribery with candy,” Bullock said.
So what exactly can a 3D printer do? As Potter and Bullock explain it, the possibilities appear to only be limited by one’s imagination.
“I just had a student design and print an adaptation to the shifter in his car. Other items that have been printed out in the real world are musical instruments, cameras, childrens’ toys, phone cases, lights clocks…really the utilization is endless,” Bullock said.
“Students have printed out everything from jewelry to models of their favorite characters…but the most popular items have been customized phone cases,” Potter added.
“Students can either design their objects using third party 3D design programs like TinkerCAD or they can browse the online social community of Thingverse and find some pre-made items to print,” Bullock explains.
Another product of the 3D printers’ manufacturer, MakerBot, even allows people to 3D print any object they can find with a scanning device called a Digitizer.
Although it may sound relatively complex to physically print an object, the process is quite a bit different than printing paper.
“Instead of ink, the printer uses a filament which is a type of plastic. It heats it up and the plastic comes out of a nozzle and builds the objects in layers,” Bullock explains.
“This is called additive manufacturing, and means that one can create an object layer by layer. This is also known as stereolithography, 3D-layering or, obviously, 3D printing.”
Since their introduction to Helix, the printers have been hard at work printing out various things for students free of charge, but this won’t always be the case.
“Our library printer has been in use almost every day since we’ve gotten it,” Potter said.
“Right now, because the printer and filament were donated and didn’t cost us anything, we’re offering the prints for free. Eventually, to cover the cost of more filament, we’ll have to start charging a small fee. But I also hope to do some workshops and offer 3D printing as an incentive for students next year,” Potter said.
Regardless, the role these 3D printers will play at Helix has only just begun. With such unique devices, the possibilities of school utilization are almost endless.
“I plan on integrating it more in to my CAD (computer-aided design) class, and maybe next year for ACE (architectural construction and engineering) we can print a 3D model of our building design,” Bullock speculated.
“We haven’t collaborated as teachers yet to decide on a big project together. However, I hope to help math build any extras they need,” said Bullock.
“My main goal right now is to figure out how we can get students in the library to start making their own designs to print. I’d really like to offer some workshops next year that give students the chance to create their own projects and print them out,” Potter said.
As Potter said, “students are really excited about this technology. There are always crowds around the printer when it’s in the middle of making something–I’m glad they’re getting an opportunity to see how it works!”
This awesome opportunity is exclusive to Helix; it’s time to make the most of it, and get printing!