The “Mini Patriot 3D Print Shop” at Jefferson Junior High School brings a hands-on experience to Project Lead the Way students who before could only look at their ideas on paper, but now can make them real with a MakerBot Mini 3D printer. Nothing is more exciting for students than to be able to actually hold in their hands something they’ve designed, sparking the imagination and engaging them in District 203’s technology curriculum in a new and compelling way. Project Lead the Way is a leading curriculum for drafting. It incorporates computer modeling programs that professionals use, and teaches students skills and concepts that Jefferson Project Lead the Way Teacher Rob Vanecek says he didn’t learn until college. But now all those models that used to be just pictures on a computer screen can become real objects made right in the classroom with a 3D printer. This takes a class that was already cutting edge and makes it more interesting, more practical and more fun – an important feature to middle schoolers. Once they see their idea sitting there in three dimensions on the desk, they can test it out, see if it works, and go back to the drawing board to make changes if it doesn’t. Advanced math skills are involved too, as students who have designed an object to be one size may need to scale it down to a size the printer can handle. Mr. Vanecek sees first-hand how the printer makes kids excited about engineering. “Probably the best part of my job is just seeing the reaction of students when they learn something new, and then we have something that we can actually create, that we can actually hold.” The Mini Patriot 3D Print Shop is a great example of how NEF grants can give the people in our district – faculty, parents and students – the chance to make an idea into a big idea. Three eighth-grade students in Jefferson’s after-school Computer Club, Luca Turano, Jake Kaufman and Jeff Piekarz, decided to apply for an NEF grant after Mr. Vanecek took a locker shelf Luca had designed for a 6th grade project and had Naperville North print it out on their 3D printer. They knew students would love to be able to do the same thing with any project, right in their classroom. The boys did careful research to find a printer appropriate for a middle school – a moderate price with an inexpensive printing medium (colored filament) for reasonable ongoing costs, and closed sides so kids wouldn’t stick their hands in it while it was printing. They even got a lesson in public speaking when Mr. Vanecek took them to a school board meeting where he was discussing Project Lead the Way and had the students share their NEF grant proposal. Now these students are freshmen at Naperville North and are seeing the benefits of their experience with the 3D printer carry over into their 9th grade work. The skills gained in setting up the printer and learning the programs it uses are giving them an edge in the drafting classes they’re taking now. Students at Jefferson who will get to use the 3D printer in all of their Project Lead the Way classes will find that when they get to high school, they’ll already have mastered the basics. Which means even more advanced concepts can be learned at the high school level. No one can deny that having a 3D printer in a middle school classroom is just plain fun – we can make a Minecraft creeper! a shark! – and Mr. Vanecek encourages the kids to use it: “I told the kids, if you design it, I will print it.” But at the same time the students are learning professional engineering skills and using real-world programs. They’re excited about technology and getting an opportunity to explore aspects of many of different STEM careers, from architecture to biotechnology. NEF grants help make it possible to implement innovative programs like this which enhance the curriculum and create new educational experiences for our students.
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Through its Annual Grant Awards, NEF helps fund inspirational enrichment programs created by District 203 teachers, parents and students. Each year, 30-50 grants are awarded in the categories of Literacy, Math & Science, Fine Arts, Health & Physical Development, General and Cultural Studies.