NY Daily News has a great profile today about an Iraqi War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and New York City College of Technology Class of 2012 Valedictorian.
Let’s add one more to the list: MakerBot aficionado.
Richard Fisher will graduate on June 4th with the honor mentioned above, but his path to that degree wasn’t so direct. As The Daily News piece points out, Richard was a “terrible student in high school who got serious about academics after his brush with death during military service in the [Iraq] War.” He never told me about that last part; only that he had served four-and-a-half years on active duty in the US Navy, and two-and-a-half in the Reserves. He has a two-week active duty stint on schedule before graduation.
Richard’s story jumped out at me not just because he is a cool example of a MakerBot operator — more on that in a second. What’s awesome here is how an uninspired high schooler turned his non-academic predilection for Making into an academic career of inspiring others.
During the Fall of 2011 and into the Spring of this year, Richard was a student teacher at I.S. 318, where his primary focus was a 6th Grade shop class. This was Richard’s first exposure to MakerBot, and 3D printing in general. The shop classroom had two MakerBot Thing-O-Matics, which Richard and his cooperating teacher Russ Holstein used as the centerpiece of a sustainability project. Richard told his students to develop a sustainable building, model it, and fill it with models of sustainable furniture.
This was really no small feat. Many “of the concepts associated with design and modeling are a bit abstract which presents a challenge when teaching children that young (11 and 12 years old),” Richard said. But the challenge didn’t deter the kids, it excited them. “Maybe it is their young age, but the [MakerBot Thing-O-Matic] was unanimously voted ‘AWESOME.’ Whenever they saw the light turn on in the printer or heard it start buzzing, everyone wanted to know what was being printed. What is it? How does it work? How long does it take?”
I asked Richard whether the boys or the girls took to the technology better, and he said there was really no difference. And once they got going, the kids “dove right in. We really pushed them beyond what a 12 year old would normally be expected to do. I think that their ability to rise to the occasion was what I found most impressive. That taught me an important lesson: If you give [kids] the tools they need and push them to do more, with the right motivation, they will deliver.”
There’s a nice end to this story. Along the way, Richard started submitting his own furniture designs to a contest at 3DTin.com. Once the kids took notice of what he was posting, they voted for his designs, and Richard came out the winner. We blogged about this at the time without knowing any of Richard’s back story, and were excited then to award him a MakerBot Replicator for his first place finish in the contest. Now we’re even more excited: the guy who has already put his life on the line in the military now plans to donate his Replicator to whichever school he ends up at for his first permanent teaching job.
Why is the Replicator a good fit for the classroom? Because they’re portable and inexpensive; perfect for the classroom, he says. But there’s more to it. As the brother of a technology teacher and a budding one himself, Richard told me there is “so much more” to teaching technology than just computers. “It drives me crazy to hear the words ‘technology’ and ‘computers’ used interchangeably.”
We’re thrilled Richard’s future students will get a chance to engage with concepts of open source hardware, rapid prototyping, and personal fabrication. We couldn’t hope for a better ambassador!