Teachers learn 3D printers, a new way to challenge, excite students: Duval part of statewide training test

(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.”

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083

Local STEM nonprofit gets an academic boost, hoping to inspire more student’s STEM interests. Partnership between Jacksonville University and Renaissance Jax announced.

(courtesy of News4Jax.com)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Renaissance Jax is helping lead the way in inspiring more Northeast Florida students to explore the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and now its impact will be felt even further with Jacksonville University as its Official Education Partner. According to the Renaissance Jax website, they aim to aid local children in their discovery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in an enjoyable educational setting that inspires educational and real-world achievement. They support and sponsor children who participate in robotics competitions, and they aim to support 300 teams in Duval county alone.

A new agreement will bring academic and financial support to the nonprofit, which is the official Lego League Affiliate Partner for the national nonprofit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Renaissance Jax, founded by Mark McCombs, supports nearly 2,000 K-12 students of promise across 20 Northeast Florida counties as they take part in robotics competitions. Its goal is to have the largest number of competitive robotics participants per capita globally by 2021.

Jacksonville University will provide annual scholarships to five incoming freshmen who have competed in at least one full season on a FIRST Robotics Competition or FIRST Tech Challenge team during high school. The scholarships are awarded to students who intend to pursue an education in engineering, physics, computing sciences or mathematics.

“Renaissance Jax represents the leading edge of robotics competition, and we are proud to be its Official Education Partner,” said JU President Tim Cost. “This partnership aligns with our education goal of supporting organizations that impact and improve educational opportunities for Florida’s K-12 students. As Jacksonville University continues to intensify its emphasis on science, engineering, technology and related fields, we look forward to working with a true innovator like Mark McCombs to enhance academic rigor across the region.”


In addition to its financial support and targeted scholarships, JU will:

-Provide faculty/staff executive to serve on the Renaissance Jax Board of Directors.
-Develop Renaissance Jax internship opportunities for JU students.
-Conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of Duval County Public Schools student participation in LEGO League.
-Develop a multi-year survey to assess students’ attitudes toward STEM and academic achievement.
-Sponsor teams that have won the annual FIRST LEGO League Regional contest to help with their travel and registration expenses as they advance in regional and national competition.

JU has added undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM fields in recent years, hired additional faculty and invested in new facilities as it engages with the community to produce work-ready and life-ready graduates. With a mutual desire to spark young students’ interest in educational and career opportunities in STEM fields – a priority for the region – JU and Renaissance Jax developed the opportunity to join forces to bolster efforts that bring students direct, hands-on experiences to explore their love for engineering, math, technology and science.

“The community that is growing around FIRST in Northeast Florida is amazing in the ways that they are fostering so many young people’s future opportunities and positive mindsets toward problem solving. JU’s $100,000 scholarship program is a bold statement of its support of FIRST and the work that Renaissance Jax is doing, and I know it will invigorate the pursuits of our high school students in our region,” said McCombs.

“The real story here will be the accomplishments of the students who come through FIRST locally and then build their lives in our community. The growth that will come from our FIRST alumni will be tremendous for Jacksonville and the rest of Northeast Florida.”

FIRST is an international youth organization founded in 1989 that operates robotics competitions. Renaissance Jax, which has held competitions at JU in the past, has a goal of supporting more than 300 teams and 6,500 students in the region by 2021 in designing, building and programming robots. McCombs founded the organization and has been involved in robotics himself since high school.

The new arrangement is designed to ignite the passions of even more students to become scientists, engineers and skilled workers, so that Northeast Florida is attractive when companies look to relocate here and see a large talent pool in math and technology, McCombs said.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

STEM Education in 2017: Are Today’s Kids Prepared to Be the Future of Silicon Valley?

(courtesy of payscale.com)

Even if you don’t have kids, you should care about STEM education in schools. After all, our future depends on today’s students becoming tomorrow’s innovators and business leaders, and that means getting a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math — no matter what field they enter.

elementary school student

Dr. Melanie LaForce, Principal Research Scientist at Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago, warns that all students need STEM, even if they plan to make their living far outside of the computer lab.

“All students should learn how to do some coding, even if they don’t plan for a career in [computer science],” she says, in a recent interview with PayScale. “CS education encourages problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as familiarity with emerging technology. In today’s world, these skills are absolutely critical for the workplace. The United States needs high-quality, publicly funded STEM education to remain competitive in nearly every industry.”

When we think of STEM, we shouldn’t see an isolated set of skills or even college majors. Nor should we relegate learning opportunities to electives and after-school programs. STEM should be integrated into every subject, every gender, and every group — especially those traditionally underrepresented in these careers.

“Learning code shouldn’t be exclusive to after-school opportunities,” LaForce says. “This is critical to ensuring all students, including those who may have less social capital, are exposed to CS and STEM.”

STEM Education for All

LaForce says that schools are finally starting to make stride integrating computer science training into formal public education. In the meantime, after-school opportunities have filled in the gaps. Newer programs provide education to students who typically have less access to STEM education. For example, Girls who Code, Black Girls Code, and the National Girls Collaborative provide opportunities targeted specifically to female, non-binary, black or intersectional students.

“Females are dramatically underrepresented in STEM careers, especially CS,” she says. “It’s widely documented that females often feel excluded or unwelcome in a cismale-dominated CS culture. Encouraging all students, especially those underrepresented in STEM, to learn code from an early age will start to populate a more diverse CS culture. We are beginning to see a slight increase in STEM career diversity, and by exposing students early, persistently, and with high quality — this will continue to improve.”

The Perennial Cry to Boost STEM

The U.S. lags behind in math and science scores. STEM education is at risk even in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group noted in a report last spring that “while Silicon Valley’s STEM talent is the most concentrated in the U.S., STEM degrees conferred from regional education institutions are growing more slowly than in other regions.” That means that in the tech industry’s own neighborhood, schools aren’t doing enough to promote STEM education. That’s a problem.

Per the report:

In 2015, only 49 percent of Silicon Valley’s 8th grade students met or exceeded the new state standards for mathematics proficiency, and there was significant disparity in proficiency by race and ethnicity. Only 20 percent of Black or African-American students and 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino students met or exceeded standards for mathematics in 8th grade, compared to 79 percent of 8th grade Asian students, and 66 percent of white students.

Where Companies Can Lend a Helping Hand

LaForce notes that tech companies can help fill in the gaps in STEM education, and should — especially if they expect to draw from the talent pool as they get older.

“First, it’s critical that public funds continue to prioritize high quality STEM education,” she says. “However, STEM businesses and organizations can support this movement by partnering with local schools. Employers can support STEM education by giving a talk about their job, bringing students in to see a rich STEM career experience in action, or helping partner with teachers to develop problem-based lessons relevant to the real-world.”


 Anne Holub
Anne Holub is a writer and editor specializing in composing and managing content for digital environments. She’s written about health and wellness trends, local city tourism topics, and all the great things going on that make you want to get up off the couch and explore the world around you. A passionate music fan, she served as the editor for a Chicago-based website’s music section for 10 years. She also makes excellent biscuits.