Getting Technical with 3D Printing at Fishers Island School District

Jared Kaplan is the technology teacher for grades 5-12 at Fishers Island School District. Kaplan incorporates 3D printing into each grade’s technology class using the Afinia 3D printer.

Jared Kaplan is the technology teacher for grades 5-12 at Fishers Island School District in New York. About 6 months ago, Kaplan applied for a school grant to purchase the 3D printer, and was told he could purchase one for his classroom. Kaplan explains, “I put a lot of time and research into which 3D printer would best fit the needs of our classroom. I went to a conference where iDesign was demoing the Afinia H-Series printer, which is where I first saw it in person. I also found it in MAKE Magazine and saw the multiple awards it had won, and knew that it would be a great addition to our classroom.”

Same Machine, Different Uses

Students create scaled models of their bedrooms for one of Kaplan's technology classes.
Students create scaled models of their bedrooms for one of Kaplan’s technology classes.

“Even though I teach a range of grade levels, I try to incorporate 3D printing into all of the classes, whether it is by printing a model to help the students understand a complex concept, or by using it as a part of a project. For example, one of my classes used AutoCAD to design their bedroom to scale and then 3D printed them. Another class uses the printer for a CO2 car project. Students design and print their own wheels, and compare it to wheels that I purchased at a retail store. We experiment with how to make the car faster or slower with different wheel designs, and test them out on a racetrack.”

Pivotal for Prototyping

Kaplan explained how the 3D printer comes in handy, beyond bringing 3D designs to life: “3D printing brings in a pivotal aspect of the engineering process: prototyping. My students use the printer to make numerous versions of their project. 3D printing isn’t necessarily a speedy process, but compared to having to draw something on wood, cut it out, sand it, etc., printing is a lot quicker.” Kaplan estimates that overall, students create 2-3 iterations of their design. “Each one is an improvement on the last. It is interesting to see how 3D printing really makes a difference when the students can see their drawings come to life. Students enjoy using the 3D software, then taking it to next level and printing their creation. It’s one thing for them to see a 3D file on a 2D screen, and another to see the fruits of their labor. It increases interest and is a reward for their hard work, one that they can take home to show friends and family.”

Students design 3D-printed wheels for CO2 cars.
Students design 3D-printed wheels for CO2 cars. Designs are tested and compared to see how wheels affect speed and distance.
Students compare wheels to see how design affects speed and distance.
Another wheel design by Kaplan’s students.

Crucial for Concepts

Kaplan has noticed another way 3D printing has impacted student learning: “It can make a lot of theoretical situations and concepts more visual and hands-on. In my drafting class, there are lots of situations where I tried to explain something verbally or use drawings. Now, I can design a model and show how something fits together or how it works. Many students tend to learn better using visual and hands-on models. With 3D printing, I can make those easily.”

Kaplan isn’t the only teacher in his district to realize how the 3D printer improves learning. “Other teachers come up to me and ask me to make a model for them if they have a tough time explaining something. They think it is great to have access to 3D printing. I think that lots of teachers – of various subjects – would enjoy and benefit from having a 3D printer in their class.”

In Awe of Afinia

“Around the holidays, my 5th graders used Tinkercad to create ornaments. They were amazed at how simple and yet complex it can be. Some students made elaborate designs, while others’ were very simple… but all of them were amazed how detailed the prints were.”

“It’s a lot of fun to see the students’ reaction to 3D printing. The older students’ reactions are very similar to those I get from the 5th graders. They are a bit in awe. If I have a print going, they’ll sit and watch it. I can’t say too much, though, since I did the same thing when I got the printer! The first day it came, I didn’t get any outside work done because I’d print and watch it go. Now, the students create so many projects they want 3D printed, the printer is going every day. I’ve had to talk with the school to see how we could buy more 3D filament.”

Like Child, Like Parent

Close-up of a 3D printed wheel.
Close-up of a 3D printed wheel.

During open houses, Kaplan likes to show off the Afinia 3D Printer. “Parents are very impressed with the 3D printer when I explain how we are implementing it in the class. Many of them are interested and very excited about using new technology in the classroom, and notice that it is a big advancement within the education field.”

Keeping with Tradition

Of course, with only one 3D printer for the classroom, Kaplan has kept traditional, non-3D-printer projects in the curriculum. “Our 7th graders have a project that has been a tradition at our school: creating a locker organizer. It’s a great project that prepares students to use the different machines in the class. They have to cut wood, glue it together, etc. The students have plenty of creative freedom with this project, so it is interesting to see what they come up with.”

“Another big hit is in the robotics class is our sumo wrestler bot project. Students create fighting robots and put them to test and see who wins. The robots have to push each other out of a ring. Students love to see how the robots fare in the competition.”

Traditionally, the school holds an award ceremony for students at the end of the year. “We are a small school of about 70 students,” Kaplan explains, “so an award ceremony is a great way to recognize everyone’s achievements. I’m thinking I may update the tradition a bit, though, and use the 3D printer to design some mini trophies that students can take home.”

Smooth and Simple to Use

Kaplan says he has enjoyed working with the Afinia 3D Printer. “It has worked great for me so far. I haven’t had any problems with the machine itself, or what I need it to do. I did have a hiccup in saving a file to the Afinia software from Autodesk’s Inventor, but after a little research just found out that I had been missing a step that I didn’t know about in Autodesk. Easy fix. Using the printer has been so smooth and simple – I love it and so do the students! I know Afinia recently came out with a 3D printer that has a larger build area, which is fantastic. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get to incorporate that one into my classroom soon, too.”