The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 28, 2014

STEM class prints in 3D

By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News

— DANVILLE — Students at Danville Middle School are getting a sneak peek at the future with a new course that teaches them how to make objects using a 3D printer.

The 3D printer lesson is part of the middle school’s STEM class, which received a $2,000 competitive grant from PPL at the Feb. 25 school board meeting.

STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, is part of an education initiative meant to prepare students for jobs related to those fields.

STEM instructor Tom Flick gave a presentation at the board’s Feb. 25 meeting on the 3D printer and how it was used in his class. Students used the device to create a set of headphone holders, first sketching out on paper what they wanted their design to look like. They would then recreate the model on a computer blueprint, which the 3D printer would create using layers of plastic. The 3D printer takes about 17 minutes to create each model, Flick said.

Each student in Flick’s class last semester made a headphone holder, and his students this semester will soon make their own as well.

The first response of the students to the 3D printer tends to be “absolute disbelief,” Flick said. “They don’t understand the concept of how it works.”

It’s a fascination that Flick shares with the students. As soon as he saw the 3D printers, he said, he knew they had to get some for the school.

Danville Middle School currently has two 3D printers which are capable of printing objects that are five inches by five inches by five inches. So far, the district has spent $3,000 on the printers and materials.

The technology of 3D printing is effecting the rest of the world’s economy, and it’s impact will only grow as it becomes easier and cheaper to print more complicated objects, Flick said.

Some high-end 3D printers can use human tissue as materials and are being used to create transplant organs for patients based on their own DNA, he told the board.

The $2,000 grant awarded to the school was written by Flick and Jen Gurski, principal of the district’s e-Learning Cyber Academy.

About $400 of the PPL grant will go toward additional material for the school’s printers. The remaining amount will go toward a wind energy lesson that will also make use of the 3D printers. Students will construct models of wind energy generators out of Lego Mindstorm kits, and then use the 3D printer to create different wind turbine models. This will allow them to test the energy efficiency of different turbine designs.

“We’re really happy to support programs that help support STEM initiatives,” said Meg Welker, PPL’s education and public outreach manager, at the Feb. 25 meeting. PPL recognizes that having more students interested and trained in STEM-related fields means a larger potential workforce for them, she said.

“I applaud you for securing this grant,” said Teri MacBride, PPL Susquehanna Regional Affairs Director. “As a board you should be pleased with the results coming out of your first semester (STEM class).”

Email comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.