Cambrian: Opinion

Santa Lucia students learn to think, and create, in 3D

Santa Lucia Middle School student Daniel Fabela shows off his latest 3D project.
Santa Lucia Middle School student Daniel Fabela shows off his latest 3D project. Special to The Cambrian

The future is here, folks. The sixth-graders at Santa Lucia Middle School can think about a three-dimensional object and create it by pushing a button on a printer to make it appear.

The sixth-grade art students have mastered designing and printing artwork on a 3D printer. The Cambria Education Foundation, known for funding education ideas that are “outside the box,” has literally done just that this year. It has funded a grant for a Flash Forge 3D printer and Simplify3D software that help me teach students to combine engineering with art.

The students begin by using TinkerCad on the internet to learn the basics of how to group objects, make holes and construct virtual 3D objects. When they are ready to “grow” a part (a 3D term) they begin to design their own creations to print. This involves math, engineering and problem-solving.

Because the 3D printer makes its finished product by stacking individual pieces of hot liquid ABS plastic filament that resembles weed whacker wire, students must plan on removable supports for any parts that protrude from their design. If the supports are not sufficient, a little plane may not have a wing or a little robot may not have an arm.

The young designers also need to learn scale and cost. I require projects be no larger than 7 centimeters or about 3 inches in any direction and cost less than 50 cents to grow. The Flash Forge can make bigger items, but this size can be printed and removed in the time span of a class period. The students have made key chains, figurines similar to gumball machine treasures and functional items such as boxes with fitted lids. Did I mention this is sixth grade?

I am seeing future engineers, artists and designers forming before my eyes. They are thinking about parts that help them with everyday problems like phone cases, replacing broken zipper pulls and eraser holders, as well as the aesthetics of the objects. The seventh-grade class is up next. Let’s see what they can grow.

The Open Classroom appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.