Having a physical model to hold in your hands is powerful to a student learning engineering and design. But when Brian Bobbitt started integrating 3D print education to the curriculum, there weren’t many resources. With the help of Project Lead The Way, exposure to design and production got easier. Getting a foundational education in CAD at the high school level translated to better skilled transitioning college students later. Brian Bobbit shares how educating the students early can cast away stereotypes and get their interest level high early.
We’ve got a great episode in the education and learning realm especially in secondary education high school. Once in a while we do an interview with someone who’s involved in education of 3D printing. We have a really good one for you. If you’ve liked those episodes, this is going to be for you. Even if they haven’t been your favorite, this one’s a little different. I hope you get some great things out of it because we sure did. Brian has taught engineering education for seventeen years. His pioneering teaching program called Project Lead The Way is industry-sponsored and trying to get more engineers by starting earlier. He has also written a book titled 3D Printing Made Simple for Education. It assists other educators in better understanding and sharing successful projects and machines and just the process of how to teach 3D printing. I’d love that because that is so critically important to get that 101 basis down. The really great thing about this book is that all the profits from it go straight to the students at the school. It’s interesting to hear why he wrote the book because that was really good. The reality is that he’s been involved in 3D printing and education a lot longer than most teachers in high school are or even in primary school. He’s now teaching high school but he’s done both. He’s learned a lot along the way, had a lot of great experiences. I was so impressed with how they’ve integrated this into the curriculum and what they’re doing with it, among many other things. It’s a great interview. Let’s go to the interview from Brian Bobbitt from North High School Evansville Vanderburgh School.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Education Made Simple: Revolutionizing STEM Classrooms with Brian Bobbitt
Brian, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. It’s good to have you here.
It’s great to be with you. Thank you all. I appreciate it.
Brian, when did you first get involved and started with 3D printing?
Back in 2006, we had some 3D printers that you could print resin with. The problem was it was so darn expensive. You’re looking at $25,000 for a printer. As a teacher, that’s not really in the budget. I think it was 2011 or 2012, a school I was at had a grant. The desktop printers had gotten a lot more affordable. On top of that, it was plastic. The big one then was still ABS but PLA was starting to emerge. It was a good material that you could make a usable product out of. That made it economically feasible. Once we got one, it was all about the learning curve after that.
You started really earlier than a lot of educators that are out there and even are into it now. What resources did you have not only learning yourself but figuring out how to start to teach it and create a curriculum?
Resource-wise, there wasn’t much. I call it the underground because that’s where you were running then. You try to find other people who had experience. Your primary experience then was the company that you bought it from and you hope that they had good tech support.
They were honestly learning on the job too.
Everybody was trying to figure out what to do after it failed for the first time or the second. As time went on teaching for me, you get more experience and you know how to deal with things. We’ve also changed printers. We’ve got access to a variety of different printers now. Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now because it would have been so much easier.
It’s never too late. You’re teaching and this is K through 12, right?
Right now, I’m at a high school teaching freshmen through seniors, but I have taught previously kindergarten through eighth grade primarily at the middle school level, which for Indiana is grade six through eight.
How early have you seen success introducing 3D printing?
The lower grades that I’ve gone through are third and fourth grade. It just depends. It looks a little different to them. Our projects aren’t as robust but just to get them started, we might start with a program like Tinkercad, have them put their name on a rectangle and then put a hole in it and it becomes a keychain. The fact of the matter is the kid, that student, he or she got a chance to see how it works at that level. That’s what I’m interested in that they can see the device, they can see the printer, they can see how it functions, and then we progress from there. The biggest reason I got into it was because with engineering we teach design. To have a physical model that you can hold in your hands is pretty powerful to a student.
To understand if it really works, right? There’s only so much you can tell on a computer screen. Is this really going to hold water or do whatever it’s supposed to do? Turn gears. You want to be able to physically see that and that’s not always possible in an education system, and 3D printing has changed that.
It surely has. You’re right, we can model it. That was really neat when modeling became affordable, when we got CAD programs that were affordable that people could learn quickly or at least get started quickly. That was pretty powerful. Then to see an actual physical product of it, it made a true difference.
Our daughter’s in third grade and she’s been exposed to 3D printing since she was five so we see a lot of that. I love that she has this comfort level like, “We’ll just 3D print that,” and that’s okay. Also what I really love about it is that I think at that age, the faster we can get them accustomed to the idea that failure’s okay, “It didn’t work, scrape it off and try again.” It’s not like the world has ended because it didn’t work. The people who are getting used to that idea are willing to take risks and are willing to try new things and are willing to be creative.
Last year we ran a STEM camp during the summer at our school. We featured grades four through six in one week of our camp. In the second week, we did a junior high camp. It was interesting to see how the fourth and sixth graders responded to everything because they were really jazzed up, really super excited, and they did a pretty nice job. One other thing we used is that we have a 3D scanner as well. It’s not the expensive kind, it’s the budget kind but we’re able to scan each one of our students or anybody and then they can edit that as well. We used AutoDesk Meshmixer for that. Essentially they are sculpting a virtual ball of clay. To watch their creativity just explode with that is something else.
Now as you’ve gotten more into the high school age group, how detailed are those projects getting? Is it a separate course in 3D printing or is it integrated into other science classes or something?
We are part of the Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program. It’s a well-developed national program but that’s our sponsor. They actually have a class called Introduction to Engineering Design. It’s their intro-level class for the high schools. The primary focus there is CAD programs; how to design things, the whole design process, problem-solving. The lead tool is CAD and in particular we use Autodesk Inventor.
That’s a very intense program.
It is, in fact the course is a year-long course. We’re looking at freshmen that when they come in have zero experience with CAD. We do have the middle school program now, so over the course of the next few years, we’ll see a big difference. They are actually using SketchUp, which to me is good because I like them to be able to see several different programs. I grew up with Inventor. That’s how I learned. I’ve also seen SketchUp and I know that there’s a lot that you can do with it. I think the more they get exposed to, the better as far as CAD goes.
I think that being almost software agnostic is a good way to be. It’s not that easy, I wish it was. Every software has their own menu structure and you have to relearn it. If you’ve got the fundamentals basically and you could shift from program to program, it makes you so much more valuable in the job market. It makes you so much more flexible, “I want to do something different. There’s a program out here. Maybe let me try Meshmixer or Blender or whatever that is. I could do something different that I couldn’t do in this other program.”
We have heavy industry around here actually but a lot of those companies are using SolidWorks. As they go through our programs, they’ll get an experience with Inventor, with SolidWorks. We do have a few students on their own are working to learn Blender. I think the more experience we give them, the better. I just had one of our advanced engineering students in here who is doing some lettering. He was making a name tag, try to make it real quick, and he’s on Inventor over there and he’s got dimensions and everything else. I told him, “Have you ever heard of Tinkercad?” For what he is trying to do, Tinkercad could knock that out very fast.
The more exposure they have, the more realization that these are all just tools that might accomplish different results. Maybe you want to be able to switch back and forth and move into them if it’s necessary. Tom do that sometimes. Tom uses Rhino. Sometimes he’ll do Rhino and then he’ll move it into another program to do something on the surface. Everybody gets more experienced in one program or another. Especially at this high school level, it doesn’t matter to me what program they start. The fact that they’re getting a foundational education in CAD at that young age is fantastic. When I was in high school in ninth grade, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I went out and I had to go get a part-time job at a local architectural firm just emptying wastebaskets to get exposure. They eventually utilized me for other things and they trained me in AutoCAD. At the time it was 2D, not 3D, but that eventually changed. I had to go out and get that education myself and had to take that initiative. I really wish it had happened in high school. I think that is fantastic for our youth in this country especially in your area and what you’re doing there.
With Project Lead The Way, they’ve really done a nice job of putting a good program together, leaving you enough openings for the creativity stuff where you’re still able to get things that you need locally in your area.
I want to ask about that. Is it a prerequisite or do you have integrated art programs as well where you’re teaching sketching and drawing in the more traditional sense so that they have a good sense of that side of structural and creative process?
At the beginning of the actual program, the first couple of units are really more about the design process as an overview. Then you move right into sketching. You’re talking pencil and paper. We’re not even talking graph paper or ISO paper. You were just talking about putting an idea on paper, so that artistic skill. Gradually you build up to where you’re taking that idea more formal. You’re plotting out multi-views and isometric drawings and things. Eventually, it all leads up to CAD but the sequencing is there. One thing I do is that we really try to focus on the STEAM elements, adding the A in. Our Art Department is phenomenal. We actually wrote a grant together and we have a 3D object scanner. Our goal is to scan some of the sculptures they make and then, for our kids to be able to put them in Inventor and create a mold of that that we can most likely 3D print. That allows me to get into some material science with them so that we can cast those with different materials like silicon and those kinds of things, so that the kids can say, “Is it cheaper to 3D print this? Is it cheaper to cast this? Is it cheaper to get it out on a CNC machine and do this?”
This is our big gap that we have seen in the overall marketplace from more of a university level because we haven’t seen too many programs like yours out. Where we see it at the university level is a lot of times these 3D print programs and degrees are offered in isolation. They don’t have good product design, methods, materials, manufacturing techniques, costing. They don’t have any of those broader reaching subjects. It’s all about the CAD and all about the three-dimensions and all about the virtual world of it. When you rely only on the computer to do that, you don’t really have a sense of, “Does this really work? Is this really viable? Can it be cost effective?” Then we also have those that come out of the industrial design programs and the product design programs, and those kinds of things. While 3D printers are usually available in labs, they’re not always also core integrated yet into the curriculums. It’s a lag in the two places that they’ve got to bridge to each other.
When I go to conferences and do presentations, people will often ask about, “What kind of 3D printer should I get?” My first question to them is always, “What do you want to do? What are you trying to do with it? Do you have a design process build up or are you just going to go to Thingiverse?” It is great but you want to be an original creator at some point and actually use the machine for things that have been designed by students.
We’re going to need those designers, so please keep growing them up through our education system. What you mentioned before about how you’re working cross-functionally with the art department in scanning sculptures and then doing other things with them, that is a perfect example for a lot of other departments around the country who may be trying to figure out, “What are we going to do with this or what kinds of things can we do with it?” I like that what you’ve done is not just coming up with a project to do completely within the 3D printing realm that you’re working with other materials, other departments, other classes. It just becomes a means to an end to work on a project. What they’re learning is so much more than just 3D printing.
Our advanced engineering students, they have taken the intro class the year before so they’ve had the CAD background. Now they move into a curriculum that is really a survey of engineering, so they’re talking about stress and strain calculations, hydraulics and pressures. It gets crazy. Some of the stuff they do is heavily related to coding with robotics. They will build something and maybe it won’t fit just right. They’ll need a part. They will actually go to the computers and use those CAD skills and they’ll get a dial caliper on it or digital and they’ll measure it out. Fifteen minutes later, they’ve got their design and it’s already printing. It’s amazing to watch that they transfer that skill and it’s useful to them. The other thing is with the 3D printers themselves, they break, they malfunction for whatever reason. A good practice for them is to actually fix the printers when they go down. That’s another big reason I wanted some of the 3D printers as well just to take a look, “Here are the electronics. A lot of them are Arduino-based.” Arduino is so popular now that I really feel like that’s a skill we also need to make sure they have when they get out.
Have you had educators from other districts or other schools or even states come and try to learn how you’re doing it? Are you involved in training other teachers? Can you share some of that?
We have visitors quite often that will come in and they just want to see what kind of 3D printers we have and how we’re using them. I do presentations probably four or five a year just at different conferences talking to educators about what to look for in printers and how to deal with things, how to keep them up and running. That’s the big thing.
It’s part IT management and physical machine management and facility management. You’ve got all those things mixed in just to incorporate this into a curriculum.
It can get frustrating. I can remember when we first got our 3D printer and the frustration of it when it would go down and you’re turning around and there are 30 students in your class. You don’t have time to fix it right there. You’ve got students that are counting on you for other things than the 3D printer. The goal I always have when I meet with other people or other educators is just, “How can we make this that I just push the button and it works?” Honestly, that’s the hustle and bustle of the job. We have to constantly be on our toes with things. We don’t really have time to sit there and fix something.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you just push the button and it worked? I still don’t think we’re there quite honestly. Things have gotten a lot better and certainly I think there’s a lot more predictability and reliability with a lot of printers and software and systems, but I still don’t think we’re really there.
We are getting closer. We’re starting to get down to where there are a few common elements with every 3D printer. You can get to the point where if you can control those then you have a lot more up time. In the end, that’s what we all are trying to focus on.
When people ask us, and we get the question all the time, “What 3D printer should I buy?” Of course, our first question is, “Why do you want one and what are you going to do with it?” If it’s just in the learning process like, “I want to teach myself this and I want to learn,” we say, “Do you know CAD?” If they say, “No,” then we say, “Then you need to start there before you get a 3D printer and/or get a very reliable one.” User reliability, one that just doesn’t have as much downtime, and use that as your criteria. The less frustrating the machine is, the more you can concentrate on the designing of the ‘what’ and learning what works and what doesn’t. It will still fail but it won’t be the machine that’s failing. It will be your design that’s failing. Then you’ll learn and you’ll design better the next time. Reliability is our number one key because we find that the time waste frustrates people and they give up faster and they don’t get the benefit from it. Spending a little bit money for reliability is worth it.
When I get asked that question, I try to ask the person as well about the CAD skills for sure, but then also their technical skills. Some people are just afraid to touch things. In that case, you need more of a device that’s got a big warranty that comes with it where you’re going to send it to them and they just change the part.
Send out a service plan, the guy who shows up and fixes.
That’s huge but the biggest problem with that is the cost of the printer goes pretty high because you’re going to be paying for the service too.
This is a thing that we’ve had and we’ve talked about this on the other episodes about education and surrounding education. That is a disservice to both the teachers and the students in school to have too low a budget that you end up buying printers that are unreliable and that don’t have service plans and don’t have big enough warranties and all of that. The three things that I think administration or anyone who’s going to donate money and expect it is that you expect that you should be spending money so that you get the most reliable that you can afford. That it comes with time and money for teachers to be trained. Go let them take classes. Go let them have conferences. Make sure there’s money in the budget for that. As you know that if you’re all working on your student stuff, you’re not having enough time to continuously learn yourself and then you’re doing it all on your free time. That’s not okay. We have to pay our teachers for the time that they’re investing and learning the technology because it’s benefiting our students in the end.
The time is huge. You all know with a 3D printer, there are all kinds of things that could possibly go wrong. The more time you can get just to sit there and familiarize yourself with the machine, the more comfortable you’re going to be when you teach your students or, for that matter, even other adults.
At first you’re all really nervous about there’s a jam and you’re not sure why. You’re afraid to take all the pieces apart probably because, number one, you may have not done it before and/or you’re going to hurt anything. Once you really take the gloves off and really do it and you realize, “It’s really not that complicated. It’s logical what might have gone wrong.” In the future you’ve got a jam, it’s a five-minute affair not a 45-minute affair to get it fixed. Brian, how much support do you get from Project Lead The Way? Can you help share how some of that works?
Project Lead The Way is a national organization in engineering. They started back in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. As a country, we have a shortage of engineers and designers. The goal for the whole organization was to create more engineers. The idea was simple. If you get it into schools, more people will get exposed to it, more people will do better when they get to their first year at the university trying to major in engineering. We had a huge problem with that. We had people that wanted to be engineers but when they got into the curriculum in college, it was so difficult and they weren’t prepared to take on. Project Lead The Way, they have developed a pretty extensive curriculum and several different courses to help remedy that problem. One of the really nice things about it is the rigor. It’s a pretty intense curriculum. What I like about it even more so is that it’s engaging. It’s fun. Our students love coming to class. They love to learn the hard stuff, which as a teacher that’s awesome.
Do you have a good mix of men and women in your group or girls and boys? Are you finding that it’s attracting both?
We’re getting closer. As far as women, we’re still way low. One of our solutions to that, we have a group of ambassadors that I take around. They go to Maker Faires with me and different competitions. They come with me to our elementary schools and they show some of the STEAM-stuff we do and that intrigues people. Our goal is the earlier we can reach the students, the more likely they are to cast away some of those stereotypes.
Get an interest level early. That’s why doing that earlier, third grade level exposure is so important because you might intrigue someone who’s interested and excited. When they’re not afraid of it at that level, it sparks.
Truthfully what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get everybody to become a thinker and a problem-solver. That’s the big goal. The earlier you can get a child to see that they are capable of solving problems and being the leader in the group or the leader in the room, that makes a huge difference in their educational outcome throughout their years.
There’s always a solution, we like to say. You just haven’t found it yet. The longer you can stay in that, the better off they are, the better off we are as a society. They’re going to solve our great problems. I love the idea of that. I want to touch on your book, 3D Printing Made Simple for Education. What made you write the book?
The book was actually published last December. I had just come out of a conference up in Indianapolis. It had been the second year I had done that particular conference. I realize I’m getting the same exact questions over and over. I could remember dad always saying, “If you have to repeat yourself, you need to write it down.” I just wrote it in a book, and it’s the same information that I would give out at a presentation or a conference or something. The folks who have purchased it have really felt like it’s been a good benefit to them. It’s a general overview of just 3D printing. There are certain common elements for every 3D printer that really make a difference. If you can focus on those things, then you’re going to increase your up time with the printer. The very first chapter starts with the design process and why do you want this 3D printer? In every conference we talked at, that’s always my first question, “Why do you want this machine?” It’s not going to revolutionize a classroom unless you have some way to show how the design process works and how it can integrate other subjects and how it can be useful in the curriculum.
We need to understand the outcome of things as well, the impact that has on things. We take very lightly sometimes the things that we see on screen, “That looks really cool.” If people got hurt just because it’s cool, people got hurt because it wasn’t made right or it didn’t function properly, you have to be thinking about the consequences of those. If you really can’t demonstrate it by printing it out and checking it out, it’s hard to teach that concept. We can’t just trust the machine. You have to have human check against that.
We went to a conference and they were talking about especially the Autodesk products and the products that are really doing machine learning, AI engineering and designing. You’re having this idea of the machine deciding what the part should look like and what its most optimum, how little of materials can you get away with, which you can do because you’re 3D printing it. Perhaps it’s an aerodynamic part or something like that. You’re 3D printing it and so it’s not being made in the traditional way because it’s not welded or however that might be. We keep looking at that and thinking, “There’s going to be a huge problem with this.” It’s not that it’s not cool and there’s not a place for it, but if there are people who don’t have a fundamental grasp and understanding of why those old parts are the way they are, what the data means, what the understanding of that is, and they show this picture of this airplane that is just like this skeletal structure and this is all you need, and then there are panels of it. I look at Tom and go, “No one’s going to fly on that.” They’re going to spend all this money and no one will get in it because it forgets that machines aren’t the only thing. Humans have to interact with it. That’s not something you can necessarily teach a machine until it’s failed. You make a whole plane and it fails to get anyone to ride on it, and now you understand that’s not viable. Machine learning can’t work if people aren’t’ programming them properly if the data is bad to begin with. If we don’t teach them that thought process like you’re doing, then we can’t get there. We also need to teach people to be overseeing all of that and making the final decisions.
Back to the book you were talking about, one of the other things that when you go to a presentation or a conference, you will get a wide array of people in there. You’ll get people that have never seen a 3D printer and you’ll get people that are there that need help fixing a 3D printer or that are just looking for that little advanced extra tip to give them something new in their classroom. One of the big items I always talk about as well is the filament type. Truthfully, if you’re going to recommend a type of 3D printer, you have to know what filaments are going to run through there. There are a lot of folks that just see 3D printers as a fancy plastic melter. When you have this vision of, “I’m going to print prosthetics with this, I’m going to print movable objects,” you can but you have to modify so crazy like with ABS and PLA. Then you start looking at filaments like TPU that are flexible and allow you to bend. I was actually listening to your podcast and you had a guest on that was a fashion designer. As I was listening to that, that was incredible because I thought there’s a new way to reach a student.
This is a way to reach a lot of your women, a lot of those girls. Danit Peleg, exclusively she was using flex material, and so you have to have the right printer to be able to do that. That’s why these printers that are allowing you to do maybe multiple heads, we’re always looking for the cool multi-material machines because it gives you flexibility with one machine. They also have a lot of breakdowns and problems. We still haven’t found a great one. I’ve got a little tease for you and our listeners. Coming up every soon is actually a review of a desktop 3D printer, very affordable, that does two materials, not only different colors but different materials, very, very well. Better than I’ve experienced in anything else. Stay tuned for that one. Tom’s put it through its paces. We’ve had this machine a couple of months.
That’s really helpful too. To know people that have used a machine and put it through a torture test to say, “This will definitely be effective for TPU or this will definitely work with ABS.” ABS can be a nightmare with temperatures.
Temperatures and I think obviously your indoor air quality is an issue too with ABS. You’ve got to be prepared for that depending on where you’re going to use it. Some filaments are friendlier than others to that, but lots of considerations.
When we first started, ABS was the material we had and the printer we had had no heated bed. To top it off, it was a cube and it was open air the whole way. Not knowing what I didn’t know at the time, we couldn’t get anything going.
You can’t control the temperature, humidity, nothing.
There were so many things out of control. Truth be told, I didn’t know what to control for at that point. We’ve gotten it out of the box, the kids were excited. I was right there with them. We got it out of the box and we had some models we already created. We knew that if we put them in an STL format, we had that thing going, and then we had a big old string of just hair plastic.
I think that’s a rite of passage. Everybody has to do that. I remember at one point, and this is before we ever started the podcast, we had our first 3D printer and Tracy said, “We’ve got this gift we’ve got to give someone for their birthday coming up. Why don’t you make a little case for it with your 3D printer?” I was like, ” Why not? Challenge accepted. I’ll look into it.” It didn’t happen, I’ll just tell you that right now. It was as fundamental as going ahead and trying to print something that had this incredible big overhang and not really understanding at that point even what support material it was and that you could do that. I tried to print this thing and it just created nothing but this huge stringy mess. You learn the hard way really quick. You learn a lot about the importance of it. I also think though that you talk about that as, necessity is the mother of invention. Here you go you’re like, “I don’t want to clean up parts.” That was a big thing for Tom, “I don’t want to be scraping off support materials, sanding stuff down. I want it to come off the machine and be ready to use.” That’s when Tom started designing his own support materials. That’s when you get inventive and creative where your students really take that next step. That’s what I love to see. I love to see that progression.
It’s pretty impressive because I love that they’ll go back and they’ll print something and they’ll look at it. They may remove supports, they may not. They’ll come up with other questions like, “Is there a way that you can print this on a dual extruder?” When you get done, one extruder prints all the supports, the other extruder prints the actual structure. You put it in water and it washes away. I’m thinking, “Yeah, there’s PVA out there. There’s another material that you can actually do that with.” For them to start thinking like that, to think about, “How can I simplify this process as well?” it’s pretty neat.
When someone’s mind gets opened up to the idea about that support material just conceptually, it’s incredible to them because then they start thinking about negative space and geometry in different ways and its impractical application, which I think to me that made all the difference in terms of my education. Maybe other people don’t have the same types of issues or fine learning things just with paper and numbers, but to me getting into three-dimensions and physics and geometry and that experience really was critical in my education. What do you think is really the next support for education? What do you need the most?
I’d say that the majority of people need more of the CAD training, some design training. Also talking about how you present a problem to a student, how you frame it up so that they want to solve it. Putting the story behind it or making it meaningful. There was an example of a company here who wants to take cerebral palsy patients and let them walk in a pool. The pool has a ramp in it so they can wheelchair them down the ramp. As they’re working with that patient, the wheelchair floats away. You don’t have the time or the ability to be with your patient and chase the wheelchair around the pool at the same time. Talking to the students about, “How can we create a solution to this problem?” You hear all kinds of ideas and that’s the important part is to just let them think. Give them a chance to think and verbalize and conceptualize things. You’ll get kids that come up with, “We’re going to make the wheelchair that they use out of some piping that as they’re wheeling up the ramp, water’s able to drain out.” Being able to frame a problem is quite important, and then talking about how we can take that idea now and make it real. That’s where that 3D printing and the prototyping helps out, but the design skills are absolutely essential to be able to have.
How can we as parents, administrators, industry, help with you, the teachers? How can we help you most?
I am very fortunate where I work. My administration is in the room quite a bit. They want to come in and see what’s going on.
They have that interest in our program though. We have a community that is very supportive of what we do and they’re very in the know of what we do. The kids go home and talk about the things they’ve done. We’ve had a few parents that will come in and visit just because they want to see what it’s like here. We do some open house thing where kids and parents can come in and see what we have in our labs. Truthfully, I would really love to run a camp for adults. There are so many good things out there that can really help and engage a student but the parents are sometimes a little bit leery of it because they may not know how it works. Sometimes that would be nice just to have parents come in and just be able to talk with them and say, “These are the popular things out in the market right now and this is how they work. Better yet, this is why it might be important for you to have that for your kid. It’s not just that it’s cool. There is a purpose behind everything we do.” I would say to roundabout to your question, take a vested interest in it. See the overall picture the best you can. See how it can fit in and help other subjects.
One of the greatest feelings I get is when we’re in engineering class which is STEAM, when I see a student learn some math concept that previously eluded them or a science concept that was just like, “I didn’t understand it.” When we can put it all together, that’s pretty powerful. In education, our focus needs to be, “How can I make this as well-rounded as possible so that the student understands why they have math class, why they have science class, why they have art class, why they have the technology now so that it all fits together?” Even from that perspective of social studies. If you think about a new building going up in your area, how does it affect the local culture? How does it affect where people live and those kinds of dynamics? Really trying to tie everything together; I really feel our STEAM and our STEM areas, that’s what we do.
Thank you so much for being a guest on the show. I really enjoyed it. I hope it doesn’t sound bad when I say I enjoyed it much more than I really thought I would. That’s a positive thing. We learned a bit about you before the interview, but you can’t really know everything until you have this conversation and that was a pleasure. It’s always a pleasure to have good mind share.
On the book, the money that we make from that book, and I’m not going to lie, it’s not a tremendous amount. If we wanted to make money on a book, it wouldn’t have been about 3D printing. All of that money comes back to our students here at the program. I just wanted to clear that up.
3D Print Education Made Simple: Revolutionizing STEM Classrooms – Final Thoughts
The more that interview went on, the happier I was with hearing what Brian and his school district, the whole education system in Indiana is doing. They’re doing it right. He’s got this key. When he said that you need to have a vested interest and that the parents need to have a vested interest, the administrators do, the teachers do. They have a vested interest in coming together and collaborating. They’re doing that between their Art Department and their Science Department and their Social Studies. They’re broadening that so it’s not just about engineering at the end of the day. It’s not just about 3D printing. It’s about problem-solving. It’s about creative thinking. I love that whole idea of being able to give that exposure plus give skills at the same time that are highly transferrable, and jumping our students into a point at which they can do more with the education that they can receive at the higher education level at the university level, but also so that they’re excited to go learn that. They’re exposed to it.
Wasn’t that really interesting to learn that he’s seen it evolve in his district there about how they were sending kids from high school off into engineering programs who were really unprepared for those programs? Now at the high school level, they’re getting this foundation, especially in the CAD software, among cross-functional learning of how to apply that skill to problem-solve. They’re really getting better prepared for college. It’s really exciting to me when we know the statistics are in this country we don’t have enough engineers compared to other countries. We don’t have enough designers. We have a huge labor gap. We see labor shrinking, but skills like these are just a huge, huge opening right now. How great for them to see that and want to fill that early and make sure that their community thrives. I see them as a model for the rest of the country. I know there are others doing in other places, but I don’t think it’s happening enough yet. We are still way behind on putting out engineers and designers and here is where there’s going to be a huge number of job openings and a job gap in the future. We talked about that with Jennifer Killingback and how she’s seeing this from an HR perspective. Here, it’s great to see our educators in certain areas of the country really filling that need and helping fill that gap. We need everybody doing it.
We’re seeing that also in our own school district. We are at the Irvine Unified School District here in Orange County, California. Our daughter is in third grade. She’s eight years old. She has been exposed to some things that I really love in the last year. I think that’s going right along the lines with what they’re doing. She’s being exposed to a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. Just even the concept of that, it seems like a very entrepreneurial term analogy and we hear that a lot now. Being exposed to that at an early age is so amazing to me because she’s starting to understand the distinction and the difference. Then we come to this three-week period. She’s working on inventions. She’s studying inventors. I thought that was the most amazing thing. I don’t think I learned about most inventors until high school easily, maybe only because I was a little bit interested in it. I don’t think I heard about Edison or something like that. You didn’t really get it. You didn’t really have a grasp or understanding of that.
I think I remember learning Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone and things like that as a part of general history. It was really more about the thing that they invented, not about the inventors or the invention process, which is what she’s learning. Her challenge, her project over three weeks is to find a problem and solve it with an invention idea and then present that idea, which is so critically important because I can’t tell you how many people can’t talk about their idea. Their job is to present it in some form, three-dimensions and posters or PowerPoint or even a slide show. They can do it in any way that they feel comfortable. Of course our daughter who’s like, “We have 3D printers at home. Of course, whatever it is I’m going to try to 3D print it or make it physically.” She’s going to make it in three-dimensions because that’s what she likes to do, and she also has a sewing machine so she could do that too. That’s her take on it and it’s energized her. She’s been thinking about it non-stop. I was driving her home from a Girl Scout event and she says to me, “Mom, I’m trying to still figure out how do I know if it’s a good problem to solve?” That was the question she asked me in the car ride home. I was like, “My child is thinking.” It wasn’t even about this. I’m so glad she’s talking about a subject I care about. My child is thinking. She’s analyzing.
That’s really what he’s talking about, how to get the kids involved and motivated in terms of problem-solving. I think it’s a great approach. I think then to expand those minds into thinking that not only are physical engineering problems, mechanical problems, something to solve, but then there are also aesthetic problems to solve, and that’s where you get more into design. How are you going to make an emotional connection with someone so that they’re going to want to buy your product? It’s not always just because of what it does physically. It’s also about how cool it is.
We are really big proponents of supporting our educators. I love the way he said that you need to get a vested interest in this. Get involved and find out more about what’s going on in your school and with your students and with your children, and get involved at that level. We also think because when you get a vested interest in it, it is our job as parents, administrators to solve the problems that these teachers have. If that is machines that aren’t reliable enough or IT systems that aren’t working for them, or that they don’t have enough machines so the students can’t print fast enough. Whatever those problems are, by being invested in that, by being involved, you’re going to see it and you’re going to be able to support that education both in school and at home. I think that is really the most critical factor. I’m so glad Brian brought that up for us. It was a pleasure. I really enjoyed speaking with him and I’m very impressed. That’s a positive thing. I hope he didn’t take that negatively because it’s meant in the best way. I’m pleased and pleasantly surprised.
If you have anything you’d like to say, you’d like to reach out to Brian, you can do that on Facebook @3DStartPoint. If you have got great programs going on in your school, if you’re doing something unusual, if you’re a student and you’ve got a cool project, we want to see it. Please reach out to us and share just like Brian did. Also check out his book. That’s important if you’re interested in that. It sounds like a pretty cool book. I’d even like to read it because proceeds go to the students so it’s all for a good cause as well. Definitely go there and check that out.
Thanks so much. We’ll be back next week with another great episode. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Project Lead The Way
- 3D Printing Made Simple for Education
- Brian Bobbitt
- AutoDesk Meshmixer
- Autodesk Inventor
- Danit Peleg
- Maker Faire
About Brian Bobbitt
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