All it took was the purchase of one 3D printer to convince Upper Grand District School Board Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) and Technological Educational Lead for Upper Grand DSB Charles Benyair that the new technology is integral to the future of his students and the community at large. Just two years after buying his first printer, the district has evolved to host a full network of over one hundred 3D printers, with curriculums modified in every subject matter, programs that encourage students to build parts needed by the local community, and trained teachers who have become experts in the skill.
Following an initial investment, Benyair came across technology integration firm Advanced Education, at a local showcase venue, demoing Dremel’s new 3D printer. “I knew that these printers were the future of education,” he said. “I always look at technology to tackle challenges that our students will face in the years to come. How do we train kids for 21 century competencies? How do we prepare them for jobs that don’t exist yet? And how do we, at the same time, instill in our students a commitment to apply their learned skills to the community? We decided to also invest in Dremel’s 3D printers to help empower teachers and students to immerse themselves in the technology and further align their frame of thinking with the future.”
Upon making the investment, Advanced assisted in the integration of Dremel 3D printers specifically into district schools, offering necessary tech support as well as establishing the critical professional development training needed to fully utilize the technology. “Schools are often hesitant in adopting new technologies like this because they are concerned that they won’t get used,” explained Advanced Vice President Mark McPherson. “That’s why, in addition to technology integration, we provided Upper Grand District schools with in-person educational sessions that assisted school staff with tips on using the Dremel printers, and how to effectively integrate them into their curriculums. We are on call to help assist in any way we can to make 3D printers a mainstay in their schools.”
Since the Upper Grand District School Board invested in 3D printers, many students in the Upper Grand School District have worked with a printer, in subjects as diverse as math, science, technology, history, geography, art, design and literature. And, in addition to enhancing curriculum teachings with the technology, Benyair has taken the opportunity to involve his students in community service by solving local problems with 3D printing.
“Our strategy is to help kids understand problem-solving skills and truly grasp the potential that 3D printers have to contribute to a solution,” Benyair said. “We take some K-12 students out into the schoolyard and pose issues to them, which they in turn, design solutions for with the necessary software and printer. For example, we had students design picnic table plugs that sealed up the umbrella holes in the winter when they weren’t being used. Each month, and each year, the problem will change and the students will have to react to real-world problems.”
What’s more, the district has gotten involved with the “E-nabling the Future Prosthetic Hand Project”, which is made up of a community of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device. “One of the biggest advantages of having 3D printers is the ability to solve real life problems,” Benyair emphasized. “We are teaching students how to think about their role in the community at the same time that we are teaching them a new skill. The Province of Ontario greatly supports and encourages these initiatives for students, which has contributed to its success.”
District teachers are increasingly recognizing the many benefits that 3D printers harness for the future of their students’ professional careers. “As a classroom teacher, 3D printing is a fantastic 21st century tool. It is a practical medium for teaching students the power of design and innovation, while preparing them for the future job market they will face as they graduate,” said Arthur Public School Vice Principal Jason Boyce, who utilized 3D printers while teaching the 4 and 5 grades at Ponsonby Public School. “We solved practical problems around the school, such as replacing a lost tape dispenser wheel, or even designing a replacement button for our principal’s guitar tuner.”
Elora Public School teacher John Rupnow agrees that 3D printers are an effective tool to teach students how to problem solve. “3D printers are highly engaging for most students,” he said. “On a high level, it is fairly inexpensive technology to maintain once the 3D printers are secured. Projects can quickly move from ‘novelty’ prints to more connected, meaningful challenges.”
Since implementing 3D printers into their curriculums, the average percentage of students taking a technology class grew to 40%, which is 10% above the national average. “We really appreciate the SHSM’s support to fund this endeavor that, in two short years, has transformed our classrooms,” Benyair said. “Our students are all mini-engineers, which opens up a realm of possibilities for them as they continue to develop.”
“3D printing is going to be a part of our everyday lives soon enough,” Boyce concluded. “While it is amazing to learn about a scientist using 3D printing to replace body parts or plans for 3D printing future colonies on the moon, the technology can solve practical problems everywhere, starting in the community.”