3D Printers: To Creativity and Beyond!

King Middle School computer teacher, Mr. Frank Torrano, has a vision and it involves computer-aided design (CAD), 3D printers and boundless creativity to help students leap into the increasingly digital future.

When we visited Mr. Torrano’s Digital Media class to see what impact our Classroom Grant for software and 3D printers was having, we were immediately struck by how self-sufficient the students were. Upon entering the classroom, they each went to a computer and started working on their own projects which ranged from doing graphic design on Adobe Illustrator, designing a 3D building using SketchUp or creating their own prototypes on Tinkercad to print using the 3D printer.

This is definitely not a traditional classroom – students have the freedom to freely interact and collaborate with one another. Students could also access online tutorials in Mr. Torrano’s fantastic class website for help. What was apparent was that the students were designing projects centered around their own interests and inspirations which was very intentional on Mr. Torrano’s part, who is a strong proponent of “project-based learning.”

Mr. Torrano believes that 3D printing lends itself beautifully to project-based learning, “It supports the brainstorming and building stages, where students will make several iterations of a design. In the share stage, others may interact with the designed artifact and offer suggestions. Students who do not participate directly in the work can still be inspired.”

The constant experimentation, collaboration and adjustments that happen through 3D printers allow the focus to be on the process. The goal is not to create a perfect prototype but rather a prototype that’s constantly evolving and becoming better.

Mr. Torrano reflects, “Beyond the initial motivation to ‘make something cool’ we want students to carefully consider the rationale for printing their object. They must learn about the energy and cost of materials that cannot be wasted. They must experience the successes and failures that come with managing a project. Overall, there is a tremendous sense of agency that comes with producing a tangible object that started from an idea. For young people, it’s more than cool – it is empowering and confidence-building.”

The agency that students felt was palpable as most of the students who never learned digital media before were seamlessly navigating their way through advanced software. You get the sense that the students are accelerating exponentially forward and it leads one to wonder the same thing Mr. Torrano does: “If the kids who grew up with the early generation of personal computers ended up revolutionizing the Web, what will the kids who grow up with 3D printers do? We can only imagine.”

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