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Taking learning to the next dimension

Students at Superior High School are taking their drawings to the next dimension. A three-dimensional printer is being used by students in the school's drafting and engineering classes for two years to turn their schematics into tangible objects....

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Superior High School junior Dalton DeRosia fixes the school’s 3D printer on Dec. 19. The printer saw heavy use in the weeks prior to the holiday break as students printed out ornaments they had drafted with computer software. (Maria Lockwood)

Students at Superior High School are taking their drawings to the next dimension.

A three-dimensional printer is being used by students in the school’s drafting and engineering classes for two years to turn their schematics into tangible objects.

"It makes it more real for them," said technology education teacher Paul Skarman. And, students said, the process is awesome.

"I enjoy it," said junior Dalton DeRosia. "It enhances your creativity."

This isn’t a computer game, although computers are involved. It’s the shape of things to come.

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"We’re trying to get to the point where students better understand the way manufacturing works today," Skarman said. "Many of the local manufacturers use much of the same software we use."

The printer serves as reinforcement.

"It’s kind of nice to be able to draw something up on the computer and then bring it over to the 3-D printer and print out a smaller scale model of it, just to make sure it works," said sophomore Christian Pettit.

The technology’s applications are wide-ranging. An Aug. 1 Wall Street Journal article by Javier Espinoza examined uses for 3-D printing that included building food, clothing and even cars.

The printing process mixes problem solving, computer know-how and a pinch of calculus.

"Right now I’m working on the 2-D and once I finish the sketch, I can extrude it and make it 3-D so it’s kind of like in the X, Y, Z axis," said Pettit as he drafted a claw-like forklift attachment. "Right now I’m working in the X and then Y and after I finish that I’ll put in Z."

In the Computer Aided Design lab, students in the basic drafting class made one-of-a-kind holiday ornaments this month. Projects ranged from delicate snowflakes and an intricate sleigh to a nutcracker and snowmen.

"From start to finish, it’s their own creation," Skarman said.

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First they had to decide on a design, then they had to make it from scratch.

"Like my snowman that I’m making, I thought it was fun to go through and build it, and have to figure out the measurements for the arms and the nose and everything separately," DeRosia said. "I think it was cool."

In addition to technical skills, these CAD classes offer students the chance to take ownership.

"It wets their feet in those sorts of trades but it helps them to get to the creativity, the synthesis of different things they’ve learned," Skarman said, putting it all together in a problem-solving project.

Although everyone in the class was tasked with creating the same forklift attachment, it was not a cookie cutter process.

"I know I draw things in Inventor differently than the guy sitting next to me," DeRosia said. "We all drew it a little different … the final product is the same, but how we got to it was different. There are just so many ways, you can start from anywhere."

That, he said, is what he appreciates about these technical education classes.

"I enjoy a little bit less structure where I can have freedom to figure stuff out," DeRosia said.

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In the civil and architectural engineering class, each student sketched out the floor plans to a house, free to do basically anything with it. The teens could have gone for a base model, or a carbon copy. But they didn’t.

"It kind of motivates us to do something different then, like, our classmates," Pettit said. "No one really wants to copy anybody or do the same thing because it’s kind of nice to have something different."

To enhance the technical education program, Skarman envisions the addition of a computer-aided router for woodworking and possibly another 3-D printer.

"There’s a worldwide movement toward fab labs, much like the MakersSpace that is in the West End of Duluth," the teacher said. "Part of the goal here is to have that sort of facility" not only for technical education, but for other subjects. Students could use the printer to make a model of a molecule, skeleton or mathematical principal.

"This isn’t a trade school, it’s a high school," Skarman said. "We want kids to create and go beyond to problem solving."

There’s so much more to "shop class" than people in the community might think, DeRosia said.

"Some people see it as ‘Oh, kids taking a free hour during the day,’ but really we are learning things that apply to the real world and where the world is actually going," the junior said. "There’s places all over that are using the same software we are, so it’s stuff we can use when we’re out of here …"

Like the projects that take shape on the school’s 3-D printer, DeRosia said, "It’s real."

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A snowflake ornament designed by a student in the basic drafting class hangs in the Computer Aided Design room at Superior High School. Behind is the computer-generated schematic that served as the blueprint for the star, which was printed on the school’s 3D printer. (Maria Lockwood)

Related Topics: SUPERIORDOUGLAS COUNTY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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