Oblock students in Plum get a peek at new 3-D technology

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

In many industries, 3-D printing has taken center stage, as it provides efficient ways of manufacturing physical models from computerized designs.

Now, students at Oblock Junior High School will have an opportunity to work with 3-D printers.

Jason Steele, the eighth-grade technology education teacher, has been writing grants to get the printers at Oblock for three years.

This time, the district received Innovative Technology Pilot Program Grant for $2,000.

This is the first year the school was able to secure a grant to provide the printers.

“What we're moving into is a second industrial age,” Steele said, explaining that it's important for students to learn this technology while it's on the rise so they are equipped when they graduate.

Students use computer-aided drafting software to map out their ideas and then send the information to a printer, which layers melted strands of plastic to the specifications of the design.

“You kind of get to do what you feel like,” said Chelsea Burton, 14, a student who helped design parts for a glucose molecule model that could be used in a science class.

Another group of students is designing a draft of the 44-floor Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh. Of course, the printed model would only stand several inches high.

“I've always enjoyed building stuff,” said Jarrod Schultz, 13.

His partner in building the miniature skyscraper, Cam Kennedy, 14, said he also has the software at home.

“I've always been good with computers,” he said. “This is my first really hyper-detailed (project).”

Steele strongly encourages creativity as students develop their ideas, but he wants to make sure that the class integrates knowledge learned in other classes as well.

Steele calls it “interdisciplinary studies through the use of 3-D printing.”

Students are asked to create an idea that in some way utilizes something they have learned in another class. One group created a physical model of the simile “strong as an ox” in a nod to their English courses.

Steele said he is grateful for the support of the administration and the school board.

“Our principal, Joe Fishell, has been fantastic about letting me find new and exciting ways to prepare our students for the future,” he said.

The classroom now has four 3-D printers, two of which were built at the school using some parts that were created from the other printers.

The hope is to have printers in other classrooms, Steele said, adding that this technology “is really starting to take hold” in the United States.

“It's something that we're very excited about,” he said.

Matthew DeFusco is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mdefusco@tribweb.com.

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