1. Technology

The use of 3-D printers is making engineering cool, and helping kids develop spatial skills.

I’ve been reading up on rapid prototyping technologies, and came across an interesting argument: that the use of 3-D printers, which allow students to make quick physical copies of things they’ve designed on computers, is making engineering cool, and helping kids develop spatial skills.

Timothy Jump, a teacher at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, a private college preparatory school in St. Louis, Missouri… [says], “Until 3D printing came along, we were unable to show young people the beauty of the engineering process, taking an initial idea all the way to completion, until late in their educational experience…. 3D printing stimulates a student’s mechanical-spatial awareness in ways that textbooks cannot.”

Don Jalbert, a CAD/CAM mechanical design instructor at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center in Lewiston, Maine, says 3D printers can help young people realize they have a knack for engineering. “When I taught CAD 10 years ago, the concepts were wholly theoretical because the students could not touch or feel the objects they created. Now with the 3D printer, students can do much more than draw a part. They can evaluate it, refine it, assess how it fits in a larger assembly, and hand it to people. The 3D printer is a great recruiting tool for getting students excited about engineering.”

When you think about it, massive multiplayer games are essentially fun-ride versions of CAD and CAAD systems: part of the appeal of Second Life is that you can build all kinds of interesting virtual stuff, from bodies to buildings. It may be that, in the long run, the phenomenon of video games eroding kids’ mechanical or spatial skills will be replaced with a pattern in which they translate the design and engineering skills they learn in virtual worlds into the physical world, through the mediation of 3D printing technology. Just a thought.

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