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Local fifth-graders learn 3D printing with Colorado Mountain College professor

Fifth-grader Lucy Travis shows her classmates Charlie Welch and Tomas Niedermeier a few techniques on TinkerCad.
Audrey Dwyer

— Students in Kyle Paolantonio’s fifth-grade math class sat at their desks transfixed by the screen image of a TinkerCad-designed Batmobile, comparing it to the 3D replica they held in their hands.

Since November, Colorado Mountain College professor Steve Craig has been helping transform Paolantonio’s class at Soda Creek Elementary by teaching lessons that integrate technology and utilize a 3D printer.

“When I saw how excited a lot of my students were about 3D printing at the college, I thought, ‘Wow, what a great thing to bring into a classroom like this,’” Craig said. “What I wanted to do was to get them involved and using technology to create things on their own.”



Never having worked with this age group before, Craig said he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the students were able to navigate through TinkerCad, a 3D digital CAD program, to develop new designs. In turn, the program helps students envision equations or mathematical models through a tangible representation.

“Everyday they ask, ‘Can we get on TinkerCad again?’ I have to make it a reward at the end of math class,” Paolantonio said. “I think it’s a way to apply what they are learning in class but it’s also their time to be creative. They don’t get that everyday where they can just design, tinker around and play with their own creativity.”



For three days this fall, he and second-year engineering work study student Tia Valles visited the class to teach them how to create designs and then to see those evolve into a 3D object with a MakerBot Replicator printer.

“As a group, these kids are really cool thinkers,” Paolantonio said. “It’s nice to be able to offer something that frustrates them because often times with this high-achieving group, it’s hard to find frustrating problems that they can’t solve right away. It’s refreshing to be able to challenge them in this way, and it’s really exciting for me to see that the kids are excelling in such a hard program.”

Students said their designs were inspired by images, by stacking various shapes or just by maneuvering and testing out different ideas.

“I think it’s cool because you can come up with a lot of different ideas and the fact that they can be printed and you can actually have them,” said fifth-grader Taylor Graham. “It lets you be more free with different ideas, and it makes learning more than just doing math problems on paper all day.”

Paolantonio said the students also apply elements of engineering, art and science in using the 3D design program.

“It’s pretty cool to see them take a conceptual thing like a picture on the computer and actually be able to visualize what it would be like in real life,” Paolantonio said. “They’ve learned some things on there that I didn’t even see in the tutorials.”

Craig said the lesson plans teach the initial steps for creating a 3D print, where to set parameters and assess what the kids could create, and then fix problems as they develop. Because the 3D prints can take minutes, hours or days to produce, depending on the size and density of the object, Craig said they had to simplify some of the kids’ designs.

“We are trying to show them what the future will hold in a way,” Craig said. “People are going to be making items in this fashion more and more. I hope we can grow this and do these lessons again soon and keep moving forward. It’s been a really great thing and has been really nice teaching at this level and to see the students getting so excited about it.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1


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