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Clairton students sharpen skills with new 3-D printer

Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Clairton students are sharpening their math and science skills in the middle/high school art room with a new three-dimensional printer.

The New York-based MakerBot, a global leader in manufacturing desktop 3-D printers, offered its Relipcator machines at a discounted rate to teachers who registered online at

Each teacher was challenged to generate $2,000 in donations for the $2,500 machine to become part of his or her classroom.

“They wanted to provide a chance for every school within the United States to be equipped with one,” Clairton art teacher Joel Panach said. “I didn't expect it to happen so quick. When I put up the request, an anonymous donor gave half. Then, I have a lot of friends donate money, and it went so fast.”

Panach's room, where students in seventh through 12th grade participate in digital and studio arts, is now home to the machine, which is being used to make spheres, bracelets and other classroom keepsakes.

The printer is able to build models of programmed 3-D images that have been scanned or otherwise transmitted to the machine. It heats plastic thread, similar to that of a hot glue gun, and mathematically constructs the models layer by layer.

“It's pretty awesome,” freshman Jeffrey McDonald said. “It's really cool having one here.”

Jeffrey used a three-dimensional printer and scanner at a Boys Scouts camp, where participants printed copies and original designs.

Students who excel in digital arts, such as Jeffrey, soon will have more opportunities to hone their skills and prepare for post-secondary education in design-related fields.

“We're restructuring our entire art department,” Panach said.

A revised course schedule will allow for increasing skill level in studio arts, with drawing, painting and ceramics. The digital arts department will build creative software and computer-aided design skills.

“We'll be able to use all of the skills we use in (Adobe) Photoshop and translate it into basic CAD,” Panach said.

Digital arts courses give students an edge on math, science and engineering. Adding knowledge from those disciplines into something students view as an exciting hobby should boost their academic performance, Panach explained.

Principal Tom McCloskey said cross-curricular projects aren't new to Panach.

“He's been working with teachers in English and other subjects to come up with creative lessons,” principal Tom McCloskey said. “This printer is giving him a chance to work with our math teachers. It's an exciting new learning opportunity.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or



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