(First published in the Rocky View Weekly on March 1, 2016)
The expanding and cutting-edge field of 3D printing has entered the classroom in Crossfield.
Gary Bell, principal of W.G. Murdoch School, said the addition of 3D printing to the curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills through design and the inevitable problem-solving that comes with it.
“There’s some really deep and meaningful learning that comes from that,” he said. “Regardless of the area (of work a student goes into), I honestly think that 3D printing, somewhere, will have a hand in it.”
As part of the High School Redesign program, W.G. Murdoch launched a new course at the school this year that exposed students to wide array of technological fields, including automotive, robotics, vinyl cutting, 3D printing and “an invention kit for everyone” called Makey-Makey, which Bell said allowed students to gravitate towards whatever area interested them most.
Grade 8 student Kolton Sucee, 13, and Grade 7 student Kyle Shoemaker, 12, have both grown particularly fond of and fluent in the world of 3D printing.
Sucee said his family’s business is graphic design. He remembered his mother telling him that design was in his blood and because of that he connects easily with any field going hand-in-hand with it.
“I thought it was cool because it was along the same line as graphics, but way different,” he said.
Driven by his imagination, Shoemaker pursued 3D printing because he liked the thought that anything he could design, he could print.
Aspiring to become a mechanic or engineer, Shoemaker has realized having the knowledge to designing and printing whatever comes to his mind can translate into a major benefit for both those professions.
“It’s just a good skill to learn and know in the future,” he said.
The first item Sucee designed and printed from scratch was an orange cup, which took three hours and 48 minutes to print.
Shoemaker designed his own whistle, but also modified existing design files other creators uploaded to 3D printing websites and created a hockey card with a cutout of a goaltender in it.
Kim Skulsky, who teaches the technology education course, said having a defined curriculum dictating what projects students will make on the 3D printers is against the essence of the program itself.
Instead, he overcomes any of the idiosyncrasies involved with 3D printing by making sure everything is working the way it should, which in turn allows the students to run wild with their creativity.
“For me, it’s really about the kids’ imaginations because at this age these guys are far more creative than we are,” Skulsky said. “If you can dream it, you can make it and (3D printing) is one of the few areas where that’s true.”
W.G. Murdoch currently owns three 3D printers with a fourth one on the way, according to Bell.
At a cost of $2,500 each, fulfilling his vision of creating a maker space full of 3D printers in the school seemed far in the future, Bell said, but he added 3D printing is all about problem solving.
With a RepRap 3D printer kit at the ready, Bell said the school would be using its existing 3D printers to print off an additional functioning 3D printer at one fifth the cost.
What humans can use 3D printers for is expanding, he said, from bakers using 3D printed sugar to craft intricate cake toppers, the medical field using 3D printers with human cells to create functioning organs, manufacturers releasing replacement piece designs to fix broken appliances and even NASA sending 3D schematics to the International Space Station to craft specialized equipment in space.
As the price of 3D printers decreases, Bell said the technology, like personal computers and printers before it, will become the standard norm in every business and household.
“It’s really becoming quite ubiquitous, so I think the potential for careers is massive,” he said.