Using 3D Printer, Students Build Next-Generation Skills

At Cranford High School, a 3D printer funded by a CFEE grant is spurring new creativity among students by letting them make all kinds of objects for use in class.

Students and teachers throughout the school have been introduced to the printer, which applies layer after layer of plastic filament to make an object that’s been designed on a computer. The printer has been a boon to computer science and engineering classes, but could also be used in English, physical education, graphic arts, chemistry—any class for which students might think up some sort of useful accessory or physical model, say teachers and students.

“It gives students the opportunity to create things that they normally wouldn’t create” while also building their math and design skills, saidLisa Hayeck, an applied technology supervisor.

One student used it to make 20-sided dice for a game he invented in a game theory class; he also made small duck-shaped gifts for students in the school’s model United Nations club. (The duck is the club’s mascot.) Another student, interested in physics and mechanics, used the printer to build a functional lock so he could better understand how the tumblers work, said Richard Bell, a mathematics and computer science teacher.

Other ideas have percolated, such as making a trophy to accompany a new teacher-recognition feature on the high school’s website. “It’s been a tremendous asset,” Bell said. “The students have an opportunity to learn about three-dimensional design and to see some of their products, some of their thoughts and their ideas, actually physically enter the world.”

Whatever they make, students gain expertise in a technology that will be key to jobs in a variety of fields, he said. He noted that 3D printers are being used to print everything from medical devices to electronics and even food, and that its applications will only expand.

“Having this experience now builds a foundation for students,” he said. “This technology is the future.”