3D Printers Spur Creativity

Audrey Kintisch ’16 (left) and Victoria Woo ”17 helped teach other students how to do 3D printing.

 

March 28, 2016 — The shower head in senior Hendrik Schafer’s dorm wasn’t working properly and he wasn’t happy about it. So instead of getting it replaced, he designed and printed —yes, printed — a better one.

NMH students have always been encouraged to envision new possibilities, but now they can turn ideas into reality using 3D printing technology. The first printers arrived in the basement of Cutler Hall three years ago; those three were joined recently by two in Schauffler Library.

Math and computer science teacher David Warren, who has spearheaded the use of 3D printing at NMH, hopes the library’s central location will entice more students to discover the technology’s capabilities. An anonymous donor funded the 3D printing initiative to encourage students to learn by doing.

“As a society, we’ve lost the ability to create things,” Warren says. “So 3D printing, which allows students to model problems and create solutions, is pretty powerful.”

He organizes an annual schoolwide 3D printing competition every spring. Past winners have included a working pendulum clock, and a modular hydroponic system — each made of student-designed and printed parts. This May’s contest will see whose 3D designed and printed top spins the longest.

The Science Club often uses 3D printers as a tool for student projects, creating custom-made pieces such as a replacement part for a quadcopter. 

Schafer spent two days working on his shower head, making sure the water would flow with equal pressure through each hole, and that the new head would connect perfectly to the existing pipe. “Most of one’s learning process takes place in the mind, but 3D printing lets you turn any thought into a touchable object,” he says. “3D printing gives you the possibility of learning with your head, heart, and hands.”

As his project demonstrates, the printed objects are a means to a greater end. “For the kids who can design things for it, 3D printing opens up a new world of problem solving,” Warren says. “When they run into a problem — as Hendrik did with the shower head — they think about how to change it, design something, and test it. I’ve seen that happen at Science Club, and I want to push it to the rest of the student body.”

That’s one reason behind locating the new 3D printers in the library, which held a welcome party to draw students.

Victoria Woo ’17 was among those who taught themselves to use the printers, then showed others how to operate them. “I was worried that students would be intimidated by this new device,” says Woo. “But I was excited to see people tinkering with the printers and making things on their own.” During the library’s party, students printed whimsical objects such as miniature pigs, dice, and tiny robots.

However, the technology will generally be used for more academic purposes. Will Reid's Geometry students printed Roman arches they created using mathematics and software. History teacher Sean Foley printed a bust of Pericles to use in a class about ancient Greece. Lily Lin ’17 has printed parts for science projects, and aims to recreate a Rubik’s cube. Science teacher Andy Corwin’s engineering students used a 3D printer to create the chassis, wheels, propellers, and other parts of model vehicles for an electric car design-and-build challenge. The possibilities for further integration into the curriculum seem endless.

“3D printers don’t make you smarter,” says Corwin. “But they give students and teachers another route to creativity.”