How a Teacher Turned Her School’s Unused 3D Printer into a Valued Asset & Learning Tool

Stephanie Hultine is a grade four teacher at Foster Elementary in Colorado. Stephanie has a Masters degree in Education Media Design and Technology and has been teaching students from kindergarten to fourth-grade for 12 years. Her first years of teaching
were spent in Las Vegas teaching at a Title 1 school. After 8 years in Vegas, she returned home to Colorado and started teaching at a Dual Language STEM school. We recently spoke with Stephanie about how she turned her school’s unused 3D printer into a valuable asset and tool for learning.

Turning a Neglected 3D Printer into a School Asset

Foster Elementary had purchased a 3D printer some time ago. When the printer first arrived at the school, teachers printed a few bracelets that were already programmed in the printer. But interest in the school’s new tool soon waned.

Stephanie explains: “We had this huge printer but no one was using it because all the (3D design) programs were for high school students… plus, no one was trained in it – no one knew what to do.”

At Foster Elementary, Stephanie is part of a staff tech team. As part of this tech team, each teacher is assigned a different technology to be in charge of and Stephanie was tasked with 3D printing. So Stephanie taught herself all about the 3D printer and 3D design. As she tested and dismissed possible 3D design programs like Tinkercad and Sketchup for her junior elementary students, she found Makers Empire.

“I was looking at this from a first-grade perspective. I asked myself: could I do this? With the other (3D design) programs I thought, no. And I’d never want to do it again.”

So she signed up for a free trial of Makers Empire. After the trial period, she loved Makers Empire so much she convinced her school that this was a great opportunity for the students and teachers.

Foster Elementary has been using Makers Empire ever since.

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Creating a 3D Printing Club To Engage Students and Teachers

In addition to her own classroom teaching with Makers Empire, Stephanie started an after-school 3D printing club so that the older elementary students could learn about 3D printing.

She explains, “it was like a crash course into 3D printing over six weeks. It’s an introduction to what is 3D printing, the different types of 3d printing possible and then the kids do three different assignments, including the Maze lesson plan and then a project based on anything they wanted to do.”

Many of the students in her club liked designing with Makers Empire so much that they continue designing with Makers Empire at home.

“What’s nice is that I can see everything they’re creating in the app. I also had a mum come up to me – her kid had missed a class and she was telling me how he was really keen to not miss out on printing something out. So it was wonderful to see that enthusiasm.”

Stephanie admits she was hoping the 3D printing club would help spread interest in 3D printing throughout her school.

“I wanted to get the students excited – that’s sometimes how teachers get into things. The kids keep talking about it so then their teachers got interested.”

One thing Stephanie really enjoys is seeing how her students help and support each other.

“The kids are able to teach me a lot of stuff,” she says, happily.

Students have used Makers Empire for PBLs (Project and Problem Based Learning), economics units, after-school clubs, passion projects, and a Robotics competition with nine other schools that led to three student awards.

The goal of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Competition was to try and get a rover to go the furthest, not fastest. There were also different awards for the best chassis and body. Firstly, her students built hydrogen fuel cells rovers using kits from Horizon. Then they rebuilt the rover using 3D printed parts and recycled materials. Her students ended up winning three awards for their projects – a fantastic achievement!

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Helping Spread 3D Printing Throughout her School and School District

Stephanie’s principal noticed the new interest in 3D printing at her school.

“My principal asked me to do a PD (professional development) on it because the kids were talking about it to their teachers. So I led a session on it.”

Stephanie’s success with 3D printing at her school also led to school district representatives visiting her school to learn from her experience.

“I had a few district people to come out and see what I was doing with 3D printing. It was good timing because schools kept getting grants for 3D printers but they had no idea how to use them with elementary school students,” she says.

“One of the great things about you guys is the PD (professional development) and the lessons – that sold a lot of people in our district, especially the alignment with NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards). That’s one of the newest things in our district so having lesson plans already aligned to it makes things easier.”

Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story with us, Stephanie. We can’t wait to see what you and your students get up to next.

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