South Putnam receives grant for 3-D printer

Thursday, May 21, 2015

South Putnam Middle and High School students will have the chance to work with a 3-D printer thanks to a grant the school recently received.

Technology Education teacher Nathan Aker applied for a grant through WRTV 6 and learned this week he will be able to use those funds to purchase a 3-D printer.

"It was something that had been on our radar as, maybe, a wish list item. I didn't really imagine we would have the opportunity to make it happen," Aker said this week.

Aker said he expects the piece of technology to come in around $1,000. The plan is to have it ready for use at the beginning of the next school year after Aker is more familiar with the program.

"I think we will use it on a lot of different things. The engineering classes -- the technology classes -- it's all hands-on stuff, designing process oriented. This is a great way to make a model," Aker said.

When Aker started the grant application process, his first thought was using the 3-D printer in the eighth-grade rotation class, in which every student is in the technology class for nine weeks to get an idea of what the technology and engineering based classes offer. The eighth-graders build a CO2 car. They create the body out of wood and the wheels are purchased to be placed on the finished product. The 3-D printer will allow another step in that design process.

"We get them around things they might not be exposed to. This opportunity goes right in with that. The first thing I was thinking of was, 'They are going to be able to make wheels for their car'. That adds more time to it. Now they are on the computer and modeling something. That is going to bridge a gap from the 8th grade to high school where they are actually using the computer," Aker said.

"It's one more step there that they can engineer. They can learn the balance between the weight and speed. How much plastic can you take off of it and it actually still work? How much plastic does it need on it to maintain a speed? It's another step in that design process, and by being able to prototype something easily gives us a better way to model it."

At the high school level, Aker teaches communication classes, in which students design logos and work with Photoshop programs. He also teaches a construction and wood shop class, as well as an engineering class based on Project Lead the Way curriculum.

Aker said the use of the 3-D printer will also help in those classes as well because they sketch and design projects, such as bridge trusses. Students may be able to use the design technology with the printer to see a physical representation of their project.

"This is a relatively new tech. We are getting it early, and I think that's huge," Aker said.

Aker noted this is the way engineering and technology based careers are leaning, and South Putnam students will have hands-on experience with programs to help them in the future.

While Aker and his students are excited about being able to integrate the 3-D printer into the classroom, he stressed the importance of making it self-sustaining.

"One of the questions in the application process is, 'How are you going to fund the repairs and supplies for it?' With what we do in the Communications Club, we are printing stuff out for people. We do charge for that. We don't make a killing, but we make a couple bucks here and there. That goes into paper and ink cartridges," Aker said, adding maybe the students could create marketable products to fund the use of the printer.

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