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3-D Printer Proving Ground: Models Meet Their Match in Elementary Classrooms

Do you want a chocolate candy bar? Then, print one.

Kids in the classroom are learning how technology works by fabricating 3-D copies of their favorite things.

Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab – headed by Hod Lipson, Cornell associate professor of engineering – has been awarded a share of a MacArthur "Reimagining Learning" Competition grant to bring the three-dimensional printers to public elementary school classrooms.

The goal: Get young children to feel comfortable with engineering.

Lipson’s lab makes three-dimensional printers compatible with an endless array of materials – from Play-Doh, cookie dough and chocolate to polymers and metals – which allows a kid to make 3D objects right on their desktop. These printers read an electronic blueprint and then a nozzle, filled with appropriate materials, builds a replica.

Using a 3-D printer, the students at the Cayuga Heights Elementary School in Ithaca, N.Y., made a small space shuttle from two colors of Play-Doh. Lipson says: “Ultimately what we really want is to have a personal fabricator in every classroom, just like there is a personal computer in every classroom.”

The grant – one of a handful selected from among hundreds of applicants worldwide – was awarded to Glen Bull, University of Virginia professor of instructional technology, who will spearhead the Fab@School effort to create curriculum and data collection around digital fabricators for classrooms in Virginia. Lipson is part of that effort.

The MacArthur grant was $185,000. The Digital Media and Learning Competition is funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to the University of California Humanities Research Institute and Duke University and is administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), a virtual network of learning institutions.

The grant will allow the Fab@Home project team, headed by Jeffrey Lipton, Cornell doctoral student, to design and build five more printers appropriate for use in elementary school classrooms.

Anyone can download the open-source plans to build the printers. The latest version can be built with about $1,600 worth of off-the-shelf parts.

The Fab@School Web site:

The Fab@Home Web site:

Blaine Friedlander | Newswise Science News
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