(Courtesy of Jacksonville.com)
Schools are out for the summer, but about 30 Duval teachers were still at work at Twin Lakes Middle School last week, debating the fine points of statistics and flinging marshmallows, Cheerios and colorful projectiles into the air.
and they’ll be able to transfer that one day to the manufacturing field is fantastic,” Vlachakis said. Education companies with 3D printing components are up and coming, she said.
The educators, who teach algebra and other math courses in Duval middle and high schools, were using tiny, plastic catapults made from 3D printers. Over eight days they were learning how to make and master catapults and other doodads for math and science lessons.
They were using miniature human skulls, colorful lion fish and loaded dice. A special website, MySTEMkits.com, allowed them to use a 3D printer to make the materials.
At the end of the eight days of training, each teacher will get a free 3D printer and can use the website to make kits. The hope is that the new technology will amp up excitement and creativity in math and science classes.
“It’s good for the students in terms of technology,” said Rachel Hazel, a Duval high school math specialist. “What they create with the printer they’re going to use for hands-on mathematics. … That’s a hook to keep students interested.”
Florida State University’s Center for Research & STEM is partnering with MyStemKits.com and the state of Florida to encourage hundreds of teachers to incorporate hands-on STEM kits and 3D technology into class lessons. (STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and math.)
Three-D printers are revolutionizing a host of industries, experts say, by reducing costs and the need for high levels of technological know-how to make 3D objects. The printers vary in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on size and their use, experts say.
Some Duval schools already have 3D printers, usually associated with a teacher or a program, said Alexandra Vlachakis, Duval’s career and tech education executive director for STEM, IT and computer science.
For instance, four Duval schools have student teams who made small “sumo robots” with parts made by 3D printers and the student’s own coding skills. The robots compete, pushing each other out of a circle like Sumo wrestlers.
“The idea that you give kids at a young age the ability to render things in 3D and they’ll be able to transfer that one day to the manufacturing field is fantastic,” Vlachakis said.
Education companies with 3D printing components are up and coming, she said.
“There are a lot of 3D companies that are being smart like that and are creating STEM curriculum with their 3D printers,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier for a teacher to get up and get going on 3D printing. Their learning curve can be steep but once they’re in, they get really deep into it.”
Teachers have to be trained first.
Duval’s 30 middle and high school teachers are learning to make the STEM materials using the MySTEMkit website.
Another 140 Duval elementary teachers will get similar training and access the website, but they won’t get printers; they’ll get printing and shipping services, said Rabieh Razzouk, director of the Florida Center for Research in STEM Education, part of FSU’s Learning Systems Institute.
It’s all part of a study paid for with a series of grants to encourage and monitor the use of STEM kits, curriculum and printers in classrooms. Teachers agree to teach at least five STEM lessons using the printers and kits and report the results, he said.
Throughout the state, up to 300 middle and high school teachers and 500 elementary teachers will participate over the three-year grant, Razzouk said.
“We’re calling the 3D printer the supply factory for the teacher,” Razzook said. “We want every teacher to utilize this technology so they can make manipulatives (classroom materials), which can be very pricey.”
Printing materials on a 3D printer costs a fraction of normal retail costs from teacher supply websites or stores, Razzouk said.
For instance, a DNA assembly kit would cost $81 at a teacher supply site but $11 per kit when printed out via the MySTEMkits website, he said. A set of air-launched rockets costs up to $575 online but printing a similar set on the 3D printer costs only $3.
The website’s curriculum and materials cost regular educational users as low as $12 a year per student, but for homeschoolers a subscription can cost $800 and for a classroom $1,500 a year.
The savings come from streaming printing orders from the website onto a 3D printer.
Often teachers are hesitant to learn and use new technologies in class, but several Duval teachers said they believe using 3D printers will become as simple as logging onto the website and hitting a print button.
Madelyn Morales, who teaches algebra at John E. Ford K-8 school, said her students will be drawn to the technology. “They’re probably going to be all over it,” she said. “They’re going to be amazed at the different things you can create on it. I think they’ll be most excited in sixth grade math, where they like to be touching things and getting to interact with each other.”
Math teachers can partner with science teachers on some lessons, said Carrie Meyers, a math specialist coordinating the teacher training.
For instance, the printer can make various colors of lion fish, an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Teachers can help students learn sampling methods so they can generate data about lion fish encroachment, which can later be analyzed in class.
“Instead of just giving students a set of numbers to do data, they can collect data on their own,” said Matthew Peterson, who teaches algebra at James Weldon Johnson Middle school.
Peterson said his Algebra 2 students are going to use the catapult for marshmallow launch and they’ll videotape it so they can play it back in slow motion and calculate trajectories.
“No other schools I know have this,” he said.
The math teachers learned how to make “loaded” dice on the 3D printer that students can use to learn about statistics and probabilities. “It’s real; (students) are not just learning math for math’s sake,” Meyers said.
“We are pushing for a higher level of critical thinking skills. The kids can be the generators of their own data. … This reduces the anxiety level for kids so they feel they can become successful at math and realize that math is not difficult; it can be engaging and fun.”