Students to learn STEM with 3-D printer

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Beeber Middle School and Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School will host the Cube Odyssey on May 7. The Cube Odyssey, sponsored by 3D Systems, is a two-month road trip that includes four drivers, four printers, and one car to showcase the potential of 3-D printing.

With the explosion of 3-D movies, one might think 3-D printing involves a 2-D image that looks 3-D with special glasses. Instead, a 3-D printer heats up and prints out plastic in a form that you can hold in your hand. The process works like a traditional inkjet printer – the print head just moves in three dimensions instead of two.

3-D printers can print almost anything from smartphone and tablet components, to finished jewelry and toys and functional car parts.

On a recent show on CNN, CEO of 3D Systems Abraham Reichental described how the 3-D printing process is like building a cake, one layer at a time. Reichental said Cube printing will democratize manufacturing for kids from the ages of 8 to 80 and unleash their creativity.

Students at Beeber and Boys’ Latin will engage with principles of science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), plus art and economics as they pertain to 3-D printing.

When I showed the CNN segment and shared the news of the visit with my students at Beeber Middle School, they were speechless. The visit coincides with my students’ work on composing persuasive business letters to solicit businesses to collaborate with them to develop innovative ideas such as camouflage bubble gum, new iPhone case designs, improved football helmets, model foldable car parts and interactive I-Glasses, to name a few. Students now plan to print 3-D logos and models of some of their cool ideas.

Trey Smith, a science teacher and science department chair at Boys’ Latin, says his students are stoked about the visit, too. Smith’s students have been involved in some exciting STEM projects throughout the year and welcome scientists monthly to campus as part of their Science Speaker Series.

Speakers since September have included Penn State graduate students in entomology, an app developer, an aerospace engineering professor from Princeton, and a veterinarian that helps research labs care for animals. As part of the monthly Speaker Series, students in grades 9-12 read about an issue the speaker will address and write a response. Smith will have students blog about the Cube Odyssey before and after the event.

To build excitement for the May launch of the Cube 3-D printer and Cubify design website, 3D Systems is conducting a tour of 25 of America’s most creative cities. The tour started on the West Coast, stopped at a cool expo at Stanford University, and is making its way to the East Coast and the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange. However, the most important visits are being made to schools.

Beeber and Boys’ Latin students will experience, firsthand, hands-on and authentic learning with a new tool. The Cube Odyssey will be an interactive experience for students. Students and teachers alike will face the challenges of designing in 3-D and will be able to use simple 3-D design apps to visualize their ideas and then print their creations in the mobile printing lab.

As teacher consultants of the Philadelphia Writing Project, both Smith and I plan to document and share our students’ creations on National Writing Project’s Digital Is and ArtsRising.

Trey Smith contributed to this piece. Smith was recently selected as the 2012 Philadelphia Outstanding Science Teacher by the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers–Philadelphia Chapter.