One of the two people here is a past guest on the show and that’s Brian Bobbitt. He is a STEM mentor and teacher at North High School in Evansville, Indiana. He’s been on once before where we learned about his STEM education curriculum program at his school. He reached out to us and we decided it’s time for an update because a lot has happened there. What’s even more interesting about this interview is that he brought one of his students. We got permission from his parents. His mother was a fully well-aware he was going to be on the podcast and we got permission to do that. He gives us some firsthand account and insight into some of the projects he’s doing and what he’s interested in. He’s a sophomore in high school. His name is Jacob Spurling. He was a little shy at times. You can learn something very interesting about not only what they’re doing at that school but get some ideas for STEM education programs, curriculums, even details at your school or your summer program or whatever it might be that you’re interested in doing your community or maybe something you’re already doing at your school. You want to take to the next level. I enjoyed this conversation with Brian and Jake, and I hope you do too.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Printing In The STEM Education Curriculum with Brian Bobbitt and Jacob Spurling
Brian, it’s great to have you back on the show for the second time. Thanks so much.
Thank you. It’s good to be back.
I’m excited to hear about what’s going on new at North High School regarding 3D printing. You brought a special guest. I’m so excited to have also one of your students. His name is Jacob Spurling. Jacob, welcome to the show.
I’m excited about this. I don’t think in the history of WTFFF, which is several years and more than 500 episodes, I’ve ever interviewed a student with a teacher or a student at all for that matter. Brian, give us a little bit of an update as to how things would be going at North High School. Has the program advanced or do you have a lot more students? How are things going?
Since we last spoke, we have grown our program quite a bit more. We’ve added another advanced engineering course this year. We have also added robotics to our school. That’s been a pleasure because it’s giving our students a chance to advance themselves a little further than what we can do in the normal classroom setting. We’ve written a lot of grants to cover some of the registration and some of the materials we’re going to run into. That’s been a good experience so far. 3D printing-wise where we added a resin printer that we haven’t used yet in school because of the fumes. We’re learning on how to work with all of that. We also wrote a grant to purchase several 3D printers that we are going to loan out to other schools. We are trying to grow it a little bit. Jacob is one of the leads on that. We have eight. They have three fixed up. Originally, we were going to buy brand new printers from MakerSpace up in Indianapolis but they were moving to a different location. They were unloading their printers for under $100. We picked up a bunch of those. It gives us a good experience. That’s what I wanted the kids to get is to learn how to fix them. They’re definitely learning that.
That’s a very important skill. Anybody who’s done 3D printing for any length of time learns that you have to become somewhat of a technician to keep these things going sometimes. In a school environment, that’s especially good because students are learning a lot more about all the little motors, probably the filament drive gears. That thing gets gummed up with filament or the bottom tubes, any of those machines, how the filament travels through them. There are so many great physics and robotics and coding lessons that get learned there.
There’s quite a bit. Jake has taken on and he’s got a couple buddies that are helping them out too. They’ve learned how to send some G-codes there to test things. They’ve learned about the extruder motors and how to unfreeze some of those. Sometimes they get a little jammed up. They’ve learned quite a bit.
Especially now bringing the road robotics outside of 3D printing into the curriculum. That’s got to be exciting too. I keep seeing more and more robotics-related and STEM-related toys. Even flipping through a Target catalog, there are so many robotics and STEM toys and kits available. It’s a great time to be growing up, be able to learn about these things and do some incredible things.
It is definitely different than when I came up. We didn’t have all the STEM focus.
I had different shop classes and it was more about the tools. There were projects. They were STEM to a large degree, but it was more about learning the tools, a lower level of how things are made. Now it’s changed so much with computers and software and the CAD software and all that. I’m curious to hear from Jacob about some of his projects. Not only what they are, but the process you go through in executing a project. Have you learned to CAD software for instance?
In class, we have been taught Autodesk Inventor and we use that program to do a lot of things. We get that free as a student, like an educational thing. We had a special needs in this building who I made stencils for, so he could write his name and learn his numbers.
Inventor, that’s a pretty advanced program. That’s not your average entry-level software. Did it take you quite a while to be able to learn how that works and to be able to make something that’s of your own creation in your head?
I picked it up personally pretty quickly, but I know we usually spend about two or three weeks working on it and learning the basics. Every day as we came in, we had a new picture of a part on the board that we would learn how to make in different ways every time we came to class. That’s how we built up our knowledge.
Brian, is this a pretty common thing? Do you find students pick up the software a lot faster than you might think they would?
You’d be surprised. The big thing with them is to have something interesting that they want to learn. Jake picks things up fast. The average of the overall class, they pick it up pretty quick too. I wouldn’t say it’s surprising, but then it’s not when you look at the creativity level of the kids we’re getting. They come in and they want to learn more. The desire’s there, that definitely helps things out.
I have experience with Autodesk Inventor in industry, using that as an engineering software for producing products that I’ve designed that had been sold at Target and Costco and places like that. That’s a real-world serious engineering program. I’m glad you get to use that for free and you’re able to learn and pick that up pretty quickly. That’s a skill that should serve you very well if you’re thinking of going to college or at any point in your future doing something in the engineering or design world. Is that of interest to you, Jake?
My end goal is to do something along the lines of prosthetics and so having that 3D CAD software ability will help me do prototypes and maybe even some final products when I’m doing that or maybe other small-scale projects that I have.
That’s a great ambition to have working in prosthetics. That’s a field with a lot of opportunities and there are a lot of good paying jobs there. Prosthetics generally are not very cheap, although we all know about 3D printed ones that are being made that are cheaper for people that maybe can’t afford or even want a conventional prosthetic. It’s a great field to go into. Do you have a favorite project that you’ve done in this class using 3D printing that you could describe to us?
I’ve done a lot of projects.
You do like all of them or you’re not liking all of them?
I love everything about this class. It’s interesting to me. All the projects that we do are fun because most of them we get to pick pretty much what we do ourselves or make it ourselves. It’s all from us. Usually, it’s not replicating or duplicating something that someone has already done. It’s our own pictures and things that we create.
Give me an example. I’d love to paint a picture of a typical project. If you don’t have a favorite one, pick one and I’d love to hear about what your challenge was, what you were interested in making and how you went about doing it?
One of our very first projects was we had to make a puzzle cube. The design brief was that a company had a whole bunch of wooden blocks that they had leftover. We had to take those and arrange them into different parts that could be built into puzzles. We took that and then we arranged and made our own pieces in the CAD software and then we printed them all out as our own project.
That’s a great project because I can think of a lot of things that you might learn that might have been surprising to you. Did your pieces fit together properly the first time you printed them?
No. When we did that, we had to learn how to measure them correctly so they’d fit together in the holes between the sides of the pieces would fit.
They spent some time learning about tolerance.
Tolerance and draft angles. Those are all things that I can think of.
We run a Project Lead The Way Program, which is a national pre-engineering program. That puzzle cube was at the high school level and has since been moved down to the junior high and middle school level. Because we didn’t have a full junior high program yet, 2017 was the last year that I ran the puzzle cube because I wanted our kids to get that experience. They get a chance to learn about constraints with that as well so they can learn about mate and flush constraints and some angle stuff. They can learn how to animate things so they can see how it’s going to fit together. Since then it’s been replaced. Jake was a freshman in 2017. Their group got to do the puzzle cube and then they created a new project where they were learning about cams. They got to 3D print the cams and deal with displacement. Learn about some free body diagrams, vectors and scalar quantities. It was a pretty interesting project. This is one of the demos that we did. It’s real basic. They had an interesting one. After they learned about the displacement of the cams and what heights that we’re going to get, they were pretty much given free rein on how to make it unique, make it something super cool. You want to tell them about yours. Jake has one. Was it the under the sea one?
Tell me about the under the sea project.
What we did was we made our box and what we found on a website a 3D printed fish that would move their tails up and down if you wiggled them. We attached the head to the box and then the tails to the followers. As we spun the handle, it made them swim around pretty much.
Cams are one of the major building blocks of machinery and that’s a great thing to learn. Eventually, when you learn how to drive and get your first car, you may learn more about cams as you take apart your engine and work on it. I know I did. Those are great lessons that you can experience with 3D printing. I saw several colors there and different parts and that sample you held up for me. We’re you’re turning the crankshaft. You have enough machines to be printing different parts on multiple machines at once or is it crowded trying to get time on the machine to print your parts compared to all the other students? Tell me a little bit about that experience.
It is sometimes. We have quite a few printers still, but it’s having multiple classes. It’s sometimes hard to find printer time. I do know that sometimes Mr. Bobbitt will stay after and take some things off the printers. You might print something at home and we try to make it as fluid as possible to get everybody included.
It’s probably the closest thing to kids being in a candy store without having candy that you could experience. The excitement and everybody wanted to print some things. I have a question I want to ask you, but you’re not going to tell me the truth in front of your teacher. Is this one of your favorite classes at school or do you like a whole lot of subjects or is this STEM class like where everybody wants to go to?
Personally, it’s on my bad day but it’s always great to have this class now because it’s something I look forward to. This class keeps me at school sometimes. It brightens my day a whole lot more when I come to this class. I know that’s true for a lot of other kids too.
Not only educating students but keeping their attendance records up. Have you worked on some of these machines yourself? Taken some of them apart when they’re broken down or to fix things or is it something you do to learn? Do you take a part of the machine that doesn’t need to be fixed?
Generally, I don’t have the time to take them apart when they do wear but it’s something that I like to do and I have done it before. With the new printers that we’ve gotten, I know so far we’ve had to change the bed on one of them because it wasn’t working. We’ve got to change a motor. We’re still in the process of doing that. One of the motors was not turning correctly and we’ve had to do that. We’ve had to tighten one of the belts because that was too loose. Especially with those new printers, it’s been a whole great experience learning how to do that.
I would imagine this is becoming an even more rewarding experience for you as a teacher getting more machines and more students interested. How has your journey been as an educator?
That’s been quite the journey. We’ve grown a lot and as a result, we have to acquire more machines and everything. We were at a STEM camp in the summertime, so we ran it out for grades four through freshmen. Our elementary can’t fill it up within three days. There’s obviously a need for it. The kids that we get to come into camp, they were excited about the 3D printing. A lot of times we almost wish we had more time so that we could take it a little further. It’s good because at least we could get them introduced to some design things. Even if it’s something simple like SketchUp or Tinkercad they’re able to get out there and start designing. They can see the process of how it goes from design to completion.
There are some cases where we can get into what Jacob was talking about with tolerances and how things are going to fit together. It’s been a whirlwind. The students we have coming to us from the junior high, now that we have a program at that level, they’re pretty excited to come up now which is nice for me too because we can go a little further because we don’t have to start off. It’s been nice. We’ve got a lot of support from the community. We’ve picked up sponsors this year. That’s been a blessing to us.
How has that helped? Are they donating machines or just kicking in money for supplies? How has that helped the program?
Most of the sponsors have come through our first robotics program. We’ve had companies that have kicked in money. We are close to Toyota manufacturing. They’ve kicked in some funding, but they’ve also kicked in some mentors. We’ve got a lot of outside knowledge from that, which has been tremendous. I can get a true-blue engineer in here or somebody that’s working in the trade. They can give him the experience to the kids that I can’t give. It’s also nice to hear it from a different voice sometimes. That’s big for us to building mentorship programs and some community partners. We feel like that we have people in the room constantly to observe classes or to see what we’re up to. That’s a pretty neat feeling for our kids. It makes them feel pretty important when they see people coming into the room and ask them, “What are you guys doing or what are you learning about?” Sometimes the people even sit right next to them. Our kids ended up teaching them some of the stuff. That’s a neat experience for the kids.
It’s great to be the focus of attention. Getting some resources, getting some money, getting some outside influence and opportunities to learn about things in the real world. That’s how education should be, isn’t it?
I agree. Some of our manufacturing facilities around here, we’re filling a need for them too because we’re in a position now where we can’t fill all the jobs that are available. Our industry is quite interested in helping the school develop that workforce that’s prepared. It’s great that we can teach them better in other programs, but to have some of the soft skills like being on time, learning how to work with others, truly work with others, not being nice to others, “I’m going to do this part of the project, you’re going to do this part and we need to combine them in the end.” It’s interesting to work with community partners. It’s been a good experience for us.
It’s a complete experience. The students are learning about the important life and interpersonal skills necessary to cooperate and get things done. It’s not always the solo show. It’s my project. I’m doing it my way. That’s a valuable lesson.
It can be. Some of us still work solo a lot.
It’s a tough thing to learn. I know it’s a tough thing to learn as a student. I remember being a student and getting to the point where I realized what I’m working on can made even better if I open up my mind to get input from others. It makes a better result in the end. When you get to that point where you realize that and you’re like, “I’ll cooperate. That’s great.” Some learn that lesson more easily than others.
That happens even when you’re an adult too.
Jake, what 3D printer is on your Christmas list?
There are so many different types and different styles.
Is there one that you wish you had that you don’t or that you’d like to try? I’m curious from your perspective, seeing a lot of different machines.
Mr. Bobbitt, he’s got few Prusas. I know those are nice, reliable, good 3D printers. They are very expensive though, so I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out.
What about materials? You pretty much is working with PLA. I imagine in school that’s what you’re doing, right?
Yes. Here at school, we generally stick with the PLA. It’s nice and easy and low temperatures compared to everything else. At home over the summer, I’ve messed around with a little bit of the TPU. If you don’t know that is, that’s flexible filament.
Do you have your own machine at home? That was the one that he was telling me before. You were a custodian or a guardian of a machine or two over the summer. That’s an important thing. Somebody has got to grease those joints and make sure it’s still going to work when you get back to school.
Jake is pretty knowledgeable about the 3D printers. We partnered with a local community college, Ivy Tech. He got us into the Enable Project, which is to make prosthetics.
We know about them.
Jake learned a lot about how to take an STL file, edit those and how to add to it, which was a pretty good skill. That was when he was introduced to the TPU stuff. From that, he had a lot of questions about what kinds of things do I need to be successful with as far as the TPU goes? When you talk about ABS filaments, you need a closed space to work on those to keep the ambient air temperature. He messed around with a little TPU in the summer and he came up with a couple of products.
Working with different materials is important. Every material is a different property for a different purpose. That’s an important thing to learn too. Many problems in the industry can be solved by applying the right material to a situation and realizing that the easiest material to use isn’t always going to work in every situation. Those are great lessons too. It seems like it’s working there for you at North High School. The program is advancing. You got tons of students that want to participate. It seems to be a hotspot in the school. Has anybody think of it as geeky or only certain types of people do it or is it cool? What do you think?
I’d say we generally are looked at as some of the more dedicated students. I wouldn’t say smarter all the time, but we are definitely looked at as more dedicated.
It’s a positive thing though?
People are saying what’s your favorite class and you’re like, “Don’t want to tell them.” It’s a cool class. It’s not shunned as a fringe thing. Does every student touch this class, Brian, or no? There are some students go through the curriculum that doesn’t get to experience this at this point?
It’s an elective class. Any student that wants to, can take it. I always take whoever walks through the door. I wouldn’t say that, but the first thing we established when they come in the door is that they are some of the smartest people around. That needs to be a thought that they have regardless of any past discretion. That’s an expectation for them to go ahead and apply themselves. If they want to, just geek out. Enjoy thinking and coming up with things.
I think you’re a great example and even great model for most schools around the country. I know these kinds of episodes get a lot of attention. I know this is going to become another one of our most popular episodes. Especially having a perspective from a student that I don’t think we’ve had before. Jake, I want to thank you for coming on and participating in this interview. I know I’m trying to pull some stuff out of you. Podcast interview may be new to you. Thank you for participating. Brian, thank you for coming on again and sharing what’s new and what’s working. It will be of great interest. Thanks very much.
I appreciate it.
3D Printing In The STEM Education Curriculum – Final Thoughts
That was a lot of fun for me. I hope you enjoyed it too. Not only hearing the update from Brian as to what’s happening, what they’re doing in the summers, with some of their programs about the sponsors that are coming in and being involved in their school. It’s great to see that that’s happening because that is what it takes to push STEM education across our country. I enjoy hearing from students as they’re learning things. I’m super impressed that they use Inventor because that is not an easy nor a starter CAD program. It isn’t the first one that I would suggest that people dive into if they’re getting into CAD, but more power to him for doing it.
Sometimes I take for granted the capacity that students have for learning complex programs, especially when they desire to do it and they have a project that they want to go and create. It brings to mind a lot of concepts. Brian is going to send us a couple of videos of some of these projects that they have done, especially when he talks about these boxes where they essentially design a crank mechanism that uses cams and has moving parts. They don’t 3D print static objects. They’re putting them together in an assembly and making something that functions, which is part of the interest and excitement for these students. They also are getting involved in prosthetics. Jake talked about that as an area of interest of his and something that he may want to do in his further education and maybe even in a career.
Another thing I want to talk about is that this concept of tolerance is real. For any of you that are already engineers, this is not news to you. I’m sure you’re nodding or saying, “It is.” Tolerance is a big thing. You cannot put a ten-millimeter diameter peg into a ten-millimeter diameter hole in mating objects. It doesn’t work that way. When you add the complication of different 3D printers and their extrusion rates, sometimes when you design something with a ten-millimeter diameter hole it comes out less than ten millimeters in diameter. Working with all of those details, tolerances, realities of the manufactured or the printed part relative to the design part and the computer, these are incredibly complex and important concepts that students need to learn. I’m happy to see that Brian and the students at North High School are dealing with those things. That’s part of what they’re learning.
Many wonderful, real-world topics, subjects and issues that they’re dealing with and that’s what it’s going to take to create engineers of the future, people in product design development. Brian also talked about the local industry, Toyota, other industry they have there in Indiana that is coming in to get involved. The reason they’re doing it getting involved is they don’t have enough of a skilled labor base there locally to fill all the jobs that they have. We need to grow those people for the jobs of the future. I’m interested to know if all of you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. From my perspective, it was a lot of fun. I hope it was of interest to all of you. Please reach out and let me know. Either comment or reach out to me anywhere in social media, @3DStartPoint. I’d love to hear about it. If you have an interesting story or subject, something you’d like to hear for a future episode of WTFFF, please reach out and let me know that as well. I’d love to steer some future episodes in a direction that you’d be interested in. Thanks very much. I’ll be back next time with another great episode. This has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
- Brian Bobbitt
- Autodesk Inventor
- Project Lead The Way Program
- @3DStartPoint on Facebook
About Brian Bobbitt
Brian is a STEM Mentor and has been a Project Lead the Way pioneer with experience beginning in 2001. Brian has since become a leader in STEM activities as well as showing people how to integrate 3D Printing into meaningful and engaging ways in the classroom. Brian was a finalist for the 2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year in Vanderburgh County and was 2018 PTSA Outstanding Educator of the Year for Vanderburgh County. He has authored numerous grants to enhance student learning and development. Brian is the current Project Lead the Way engineering teacher at North High School in Evansville, Indiana.
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