Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sierra's journey of personalized learning with 3D printing

Sierra 's Science Fair Project
On Thursday, June 13, the gym at Monkton Central School was buzzing with students passionately showing off their science fair projects.  The artifacts, ranging from poster boards to digital exhibits created using applications like Haiku Deck and Prezi, to 3D printed hands, represented learning driven from the curiosity inside each of these 5th grade students.    


The curiosity of 10 year old, Sierra, about how 3D printing can be used to improve the lives of humans and animals, lead her to a journey that went far beyond textbook or Internet research.  It lead her to connect with the e-NABLE community for some real ‘hands on’ learning assembling her own 3D printed prosthetic hand.  


While Sierra was doing research for her science project, her mom noticed an announcement of a Google Hangout on Air where Vermont educators were conducting their own inquiry about the role of 3D printing in education.  She quickly followed up with Vermont educator, Lucie deLaBruere,  to get contact information about  Jon Schull, researcher scientist from Rochester Institute of Technology who had  joined the conversation and shared the work of the e-NABLE community.  Sierra and her mom, Lianne, reached out to the eNable community and got a quick response from volunteer member Jeremy Simon.


Jeremy, who runs 3D Universe, helped Sierra understand the math involved in printing a hand and printed a hand that fit her own hand.  Within just a few days, Sierra and her Mom were opening a package mailed to them from Jeremy which contained the hardware and 3D printed parts that Jeremy had printed for Sierra to assemble a 3D printed hand.  Sierra followed the step by step directions posted online, stopping for an occasional ice cream break, while her mom documented the progress using the iMotion app on her iPad.





Persevering past her bedtime, Sierra finished the assembled hand within 2 days. The build took approximately 5 hours and made it possible for her to reach the following conclusion for her science project:

“My results show that the 3D printed hands can help people in need of hands. I know because of my research.  People have sent hands everywhere to people who need them and they work - people can pick up things.  It’s like a real hand!


As often happens during authentic personalized learning, the whole class learned from watching their classmate’s journey, and Sierra’s teacher, Ms. Gagner, invited Jeremy Simon, e-NABLE volunteer, to share his expertise about 3D printing with the whole class via Skype.  Bringing experts into the classroom using virtual field trips via Skype and Google Hangouts is expanding the possibilities of what students learn and from whom they learn, making learning even more personal than ever. 






Student learning is no longer limited to what their teacher’s know or to what publishers include in textbooks.  Mentors like Jeremy Simon can help individual students or a whole class understand new ideas and concepts, with students driving the learning with their questions being answered in real time.


After a successful assembly of the “Cyborg beast” as a model for her science fair project, Sierra wanted to take her learning to the next level and actually print a 3D hand for a real child.  The e-NABLE community quickly found an 8 year old girl who has a functional thumb, but missing fingers.  Sierra is working with her new mentor, Jeremy from 3D Universe, to help build and test a new type of design, that will be sent to an 8 year old girl, 2000 miles away.


In an era where the educational landscape is filled with talk of personalized learning, Sierra’s story provides a powerful example and model of how maker tools and maker empowerment can contribute to true personalized learning.  


Learn more about Sierra and her project here: