Investing in the Greater Good One of the biggest hurdles in education is accessibility. Financially disadvantaged communities frequently struggle to provide their students with access to the best resources. Located in the Bronx, NY, PS 121 Throop is able to advance learning through the Title I program. Title I is a federal initiative that provides financial assistance to schools in low-income areas. With this Title I classification, the NYS Department of Youth and Community Development could fund the school’s Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF) Extended Day Program. The SASF Extended Day Program leads curriculum-based activities and free homework help for students from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Working under a tight budget, SASF Program Directors must remain prudent when investing in new resources. They must ensure that new materials will further the greater good of the program and enhance the service it provides to the PS 121 Throop learning community. Bringing Students Up to Speed Due to a lack of access at home and in class, many of the school’s 4th and 5th graders didn’t know how to use a laptop. Realizing this fact, SASF Instructor Cliff Hernandez made it his personal mission to introduce new technology to his classes. He wanted to inspire curiosity and promote collaboration with something beyond a typical iPad, tablet, or computer. After researching 3D printers, he surveyed his class. “I asked them if they wanted to do something that involves 3D printing. All of them raised their hands,” Hernandez recalls. With this in mind, Program Directors Angelica Segarra and Marco Hernandez approved the purchase of a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer. Building On 3D Concepts Hernandez uses his MakerBot Replicator and the MakerBot in the Classroom text to guide 4th and 5th graders through the fundamentals of architecture. The students were each provided with a small personal laptop to model with Tinkercad. Hernandez started with simpler projects, like asking them to design trophies and miniature houses. The success of these prints helped them retain general STEAM concepts and lessons. As they progress, Hernandez gives them more complex projects that help reinforce their knowledge of architecture. He challenges them to 3D print their own skylines. Students start by drawing out blueprints for their buildings on paper. These drawings guide students to create 3D models and shapes in Tinkercad using 3D blocks. Hernandez helps them judge the precision and accuracy of their objects. If the model doesn’t seem stable or realistic, they go back to the drawing board and try again. Once a student completes a print, the rest of the class inspects it and tests it out. Hernandez grades based on their success in following his directions for each project. To keep them motivated after failed attempts, Hernandez began teaching 3D modeling techniques on a one-on-one basis. “What I’ve noticed is that once it clicks for them, all the frustration disappears and they just keep going,” he says. After pushing past their mistakes, they’re eager to take their projects to the next level. “I taught them how to size, and all of the sudden, they’re interested in making huge buildings. One of the students asked me, ‘Mr. Cliff, is it just a grid that we’re limited to? Can we use even more?’” This continued enthusiasm, despite failure, is what keeps instructors empowered and students engaged. Inspiring New Perspectives 3D printing transforms a traditional textbook lesson into a real-life educational adventure. SASF Program Manager Ursula Hunter believes that these 3D print experiences add a fun sense of purpose to what students are learning in the program. “I think that’s what makes it interesting for the students. I believe that we learn better by doing. When you have the opportunity to apply these concepts, that’s when it becomes real and useful in some way,” she says. Students feel good about being able to use what they’ve learned to create something new and exciting. 3D-print projects also help to sharpen perception and diversify thinking. “It’s giving them the ability to see what they want to make. Having to print what they’re visualizing pushes them to be more realistic. Their creativity is free to roam, as long as they include a certain level of logic,” Hernandez says. By straddling the line between the imaginary and what’s possible, students can enhance their problem solving skills and innovate. Furthering Quality Education With the help of 3D printing, programs like SASF have new hope in drawing more underprivileged youth to the program. “We’re trying to bring in more programs and technology like this to advocate for more funding,” Segarra shares. “That way, we’ll have more kids in our afterschool program, and then serve a bigger part of the community.” After seeing the results at PS 121 Throop, three more SASF sites have invested in MakerBot. Ursula Hunter plans to further expand 3D printing throughout the program. With these initiatives, students everywhere are one step closer to having access to MakerBot and other resources that improve retention, further learning goals, and energize the classroom experience.