“It seems so little but its making such a big difference” described a STEM Academy student as he snapped together components of each finger printed from ABS filament off the uPrint 3D printer located in Room D-104 of Essex High School. He described that the 3D printed hand his team was assembling was going to help a 17 year old boy from Washington state.
When I walked into the room, minutes before class was about to start, I noticed 4 lunch trays, some pliers, a hammer, and a few other tools strategically placed on round circular tables. Each lunch tray contained 32 ABS parts that had been printed over the previous few weeks. “This one part took 22 hours to print” explained STEM Academy leader, Lea Ann Smith, as she held up the largest piece in the collection.
Lea Ann Smith and Doug Horne, dedicated teachers who have put in countless hours to make sure that the each part was successfully printed and ready for the weekly advisory meeting time of the STEM Academy students greeted their 17 students with a look of anticipation as they walked through the door.
Although their teachers, Mr. Horne and Mrs. Smith, were also learning the process outlined by the eNable community for assembling the hands, their years of experience brought many skills to the process, ranging from an understanding of technical 3D modeling software like Rhino to classroom management in a project based learning environment. Mrs. Smith learned about the eNable community while attending the CREATE MAKE LEARN Summer Institute last summer and saw this as the perfect authentic project for her STEM academy students. Together with her co-teacher, Mr. Horne, they skillfully administered just the right amount of direction and scaffolding to guide the students successfully to the next step of the process - not an easy tasks for a class that meets once a week for 30 minutes.
Just last week the students had used RHINO to scale the pieces and prepare them for the printer. One STL file had to be scaled to fit a 3 year old child, the other a 17 year old boy, and the last two were going to help a 58 year man who had lost fingers on both hands. The students were matched with their recipients by a community of volunteers collaborating to match those in need of fingers with 3D printer enthusiast called eNable. (Learn more about them at Enabling the Future)
Mr. Horne created a smooth transition from last week’s class by gathering the students quickly into their seats facing a wall sized slideshow of the printed parts.
With only 30 minutes of classroom time per week, the students knew they had little time to waste if they were to stay on schedule with their plan to eNable each of the hand donors with a newly assembled 3D printed hand. The students took a few minutes to review the instructional video from eNable volunteer, Jeremy Simon, demonstrating how to work with the snap screws and individual components of the hand.
After reviewing some key components of the video, the students grabbed a set of clearly printed directions, and quickly grouped around the lunch trays and
went right to work moving their 3D hand assembly to the next level. Meanwhile Mr. Horne and Mrs. Smith answered questions and encouraged each group to write a short paragraph providing the donor with an update of the progress of their eagerly anticipated hand.
The 17 students taking part in these 4 eNable hand assemblies are part of the Medical Advisory portion of the STEM Academy at Essex High School in Essex, Vermont. The STEM Academy currently consists of 50 students and seven faculty members. The purpose of the Academy is to give students an opportunity to experience STEM disciplines in a deeper and more meaningful way than is typically available in the classroom. The major elements of the program are enrollment in the weekly STEM Advisory, attending STEM Lecture Series events, participating in an internship and creating an independent project. Students in the STEM Academy will be exposed to a wide variety of new ideas and hands on projects. They will meet people who share their interests, both in their high school peer group and in the community, and they will learn how work collaboratively and creatively with these people to solve interesting and relevant problems.
Communication, collaboration, close reads, technical skills, career education, along with a feeling of contribution to quality of human life were all part of this powerful carefully designed instructional experience that aims to make a BIG difference from such a small but precious time slot in the week of these Vermont students. Follow them on Twitter @EssexSTEM