Weld County rural schools get ‘maximum student use’ with 3D printing technology – Greeley Tribune


As Aims Community College partners with Alquist 3D to scale up the 3D construction printing industry in Greeley, they’ll have a healthy pipeline of K-12 students who have already begun hands-on learning with 3D printing technology, even in rural parts of the county.

Johan van Nieuwenhuizen is the Superintendent of Weld County RE-1. He said that over the last few years, the district has been pursuing career and technical education opportunities (CTE) for the more than 1,990 student in Gilcrest LaSalle Platteville. Mindy KAIN, Innovation Coach at Weld Re-1, said that the district has nine 3D Printers in its schools as part of their efforts.

CTE gives students the opportunity to select the career or education that they desire after high school. Weld RE-1 provides CTE electives like robotics, videography and drone classes.

The 3D printing technology, funded by the CTE grant, has revolutionized learning in the district.

Platte Valley RE-7, which serves more than 1,000 students in the Kersey area, purchased its first 3D printer in 2008, upgrading in 2016 to a device that’s easier to maintain and produces better quality products, according to Darren Horn, a technology teacher at Platte Valley. The district’s students also have access to a plasma cutting table and two laser cutters.

Horn says that these devices are student-driven and they focus on three different technical areas: agriculture technology, business technology, and engineering technology.

Van Nieuwenhuizen stated that research shows students remember more lessons when they are exposed to different senses.

“3D printing is really about projects that students can feel and touch,” he said. “We also know that students are more engaged in the learning process because it’s not just ‘sit and listen to a lecture.’ It’s learning and doing at the same time.

“I think it’s a win-win for our students.”

Kain also says that 3D printers can help students develop their critical thinking skills and learn how to solve problems. The 3D printers create “a huge list” of project-based learning opportunities, she added.

Weld County RE-1 School District students utilizing 3D printing technology in a classroom. (Courtesy/Mindy Kain)
Weld RE-1 School district students using 3D printing in a classroom. (Courtesy/Mindy Kain)

Students in agriculture designed models of livestock production facilities and 3D printed them to gain a better understanding of their design skills. These projects encourage students to think about their future.

Kain said it’s not easy to go through the 3D-printing design process, yet these students persevered. Through trial and error, students learn how to overcome errors while developing interpersonal skills that are useful for future careers.

Horn, a technician who provides technical support for the devices, said that at Platte valley High School students are using a plasma table to cut metal with a torch. This device was purchased five years prior. Students created bumpers and benches for trucks as well as a bench on the playground at the elementary level.

Platte Valley High School’s technology classes, such as advanced systems and advanced welding, use 3D modeling software to create prototypes, Horn said. These include mounting brackets, scaled models of cars, solar cars and hundreds of other models — all tested for functionality or structural integrity.

Weld Re-1’s science departments used the printers for 3D DNA model creation. Students in Weld RE-1 have also access to a cool device called a freeze-dryer.

This opens the way to project-based teaching through experiments using freeze-drying. Kain explained that the students tested which process produced a more preserved food, and which tasted better.

Instructors of Weld RE-1 also use 3D printing technology to create math manipulatives. Kain claims that students can learn concepts better by having them in their hands. This eliminates the need for students to draw out the concept or understand it abstractly.

Kain explained that the technology can also be used to create a prototype using computer-aided designing before creating a full-scale version in trade groups. Additionally, fourth graders use an “entrepreneurial mindset” while working with the 3D printers.

Kain believes that 3D technology can create growth opportunities and change mindsets. It helps students understand it’s OK to mess up and that they learn and grow with each mistake.

“The students show what they know in so many different ways,” she said. “It’s not just about testing. It’s about growth and opportunity and knowledge and background … those soft skill characteristics that we want our students to leave us having.”

Weld RE-1 is used by the printers to produce many items, such as greenhouse flowerpots that are placed in the community gardens. Other products include customized woodshop projects for special needs children and fidgets toys for elementary school kids.

“All of those skills make it so much more easy and cost-effective than anything else we could do,” Kain said.

Platte Valley has also purchased two laser cutters for its BOSS program. The BOSS program is designed to provide students with real-life experience in an office environment through a student run business. Students can use this technology to create plaques, wall artwork and other products as well as personal projects.

According to van Nieuwenhuizen, Colorado school districts that are underfunded struggle to get extra funding for pool project. Fortunately, a number of outside organizations helped Weld Re-1 improve project-based learning opportunities and CTE to make sure that students are getting the best education.

CTE funding helped add 3D printers to the collection thanks to partnerships formed with the Weld Trust and Boxlight.

Van Nieuwenhuizen stated that he would like to see more devices, such as 3D printers, brought into the district. He asked community members to donate money or devices in order to support the learning process in Weld.

“We are just very appreciative and grateful for the good people and organizations that are supporting K-12 education,” van Nieuwenhuizen said. “Project-based learning seems to be a modality that engages students more, and we are privileged to have these devices that help us do exactly that.”

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