Maryland School Uses 3-D Printer as a Teaching Tool

In Frederick, Md., students find technology opens doors to learning new skills.

by Emma Kerr, The Frederick News-Post / November 13, 2018

(TNS) — Carrie Michaels-Anderson, computer teacher at St. John Regional Catholic School, gets one request from students over and over: to use her three 3D printers, awarded to the school through a grant.

Snowflake ornaments, little terrarium turtles and complete animal habitats — the 3D printer and its computer program TinkerCad can seemingly do it all. Michaels-Anderson said once students get to third grade, they are able to manipulate the boxes and follow the steps on TinkerCad to design their own projects.

Her work begins even before third grade. Michaels-Anderson teaches kindergarten through eighth grade, leads the school in the Hour of Code, plans new Genius Hour opportunities, and oversees an after-school robotics league. The biggest challenge for her youngest students is transitioning from the iPad mentality to using a proper computer.

“My students come in here thinking they are giant iPads, and that’s what they want to use. Well, they have to learn to use the mouse,” Michaels-Anderson said. “So I do have students who struggle with that, but it’s a good hand-eye coordination lesson.”

She teaches kindergartners to find letters on the keyboard, how to type their names with capital letters and a space between first and last. Having taught for 17 years, Michaels-Anderson said she’s seen some older students who experience a spark of interest in coding through an activity or event at school and then really take off with it.

For one 3D printing project, the snowflakes that eighth-grade students design have to be personalized to them. Students typically use their names and initials.

“I had one student — she was a swimmer — and that was something that was her life,” Michaels-Anderson said. “She made her snowflake with goggles around the outsides of it. I took them home and spray-painted them with Liquid Diamond, and it made them shine. I put ribbons on them, we decorated bags and I sent them home to give to their parents as an ornament.”

The 3D printers are an opportunity for cross-curriculum work, and are often incorporated into other class instruction. TinkerCad, which is a free program online with activities tailored to students, calls itself “the best thing in education, since education itself.” The site includes 3D Design, Electronics and Codeblocks. Students can develop simple drag-and-drop skills, or learn the basics of circuit programming.

Some of her lessons, however, go beyond the technical skills required to design printable figures or code a robot’s movements. Michaels-Anderson’s role as computer teacher increasingly extends beyond teaching typing skills to students who are often very digitally literate. Michaels-Anderson said she works to prepare students for the real world, as it exists online. Her very first unit is on internet safety, and as part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the curriculum she must teach includes teaching good digital citizenship.

Over the years, she’s seen more students becoming active on social media at young ages. But there’s also a group of students each year who do not use any form of social media and say they never will. That’s not always possible, she warns them. Michaels-Anderson said her instruction aims at giving students scenarios and complex issues they may face in their relationship to the internet for the class to explore.

“I spend time with the students talking to them about their online reputation. What they post on social media matters,” Michaels-Anderson said. “I bring real-world examples, so that they can see positive things and what can happen if they make a bad decision.”

Previously a second-grade teacher, Michaels-Anderson said she’s enjoying the chance to work with all 500 students at each grade level as computer teacher. Michaels-Anderson teaches in a formal computer lab, and with many schools opting to do away with computer labs and instead providing students with their own devices, she said the future of computer teachers like herself is uncertain.

“Some schools in the archdiocese have done away with computer labs, and they’ve just taken the technology and moved it into classrooms,” she said. “They built this school brand new and built a computer room, so I don’t think they will ever go away with this. Our students have Chromebooks as well, but when they come to me they work on a computer station. Perhaps in the future we may — some of these schools are doing away with computer labs, so maybe they will turn it into a study hall for middle schoolers or a life skills class. We are always evolving.”

©2018 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.