By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — For two weeks earlier this fall, students were able to learn how to program and use a 3D printer at All Saints Catholic School.
Pauline Thomsen, middle school science teacher, said this is just one of many STEM activities at the school. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
Schools are taking a more hands-on approach to STEM activities. With help from the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency (AEA), All Saints borrowed a 3D printer for two weeks, at no cost to the school. It will return to the school in early 2016 for another two weeks, said David Sowells, assistant principal and technology director.
For staff development, teachers Thomsen, Adam Tucker and Michelle Hayek participated in a STEM lesson to help their school meet requirements for core curriculum. This training will help the teachers investigate components of STEM through discussion and lesson planning. They will design, administer and collect student assessment data and work collaboratively across content areas to design and deliver rigorous STEM lessons, noted Principal Jeanne Von Feldt.
Robert Reppert, an AEA learning consultant, met with All Saints teachers earlier this year to show them how to use the 3D printer. Thomsen and Sowells gave a presentation to the school board on Sept. 21.
Some of the items produced on the 3D printer at All Saints were an image of the Iowa Hawkeye mascot, a beard comb for Father Paul Appel, two different butterflies, a crucifix, a Christmas stocking and a pie slice marked “1/8” to represent the portion. All items were no more than 3 inches wide due to the size of the printer.
Teachers used pre-designed programs with simpler designs that took about 20 minutes to produce. That way the demonstration fit into a class period which included discussion about how the printer works, loading software and printing the item.
By the time second semester rolls around, Thomsen and Sowells hope to have the students use tinkercad.com to select more complicated premade items or design their own.
During a demonstration after school Sept. 22, one student designed a button. Step-by-step instructions on the computer described width/height requirements and how to make button holes. Incorrect hole size could cause the button to break or prevent string from passing through.
“It can be challenging,” Sowells said. He even found the program not so easy.
Seventh-grader Katie Anderson said she thought the 3D printer was very exciting. She also learned that technology is not perfect. “It has its ups and downs.”
The 3D printer started printing a crucifix during the demonstration, but then stopped. Sowells was unable to get the machine to work – even when guided by the computer on what to do. So part of the base was all that was completed that day.