Fantastic Plastic: Scobee Education Receives Gift of 3D Printers
There was some serious playtime going on during a summer camp at the Scobee Education Center. The noise level was high as a roomful of elementary school-aged children hunched over sheets of paper and small gaming pieces that simulated a hockey or a soccer game. In fact, the kids were actually testing simple robotics programs they had designed.
At one end of the room were a row of new machines that were going to help them with their project. The machines were 3D printers and the youngsters were taking turns, learning how to use them to create small plastic parts to use for their robotic games.
The five new printers were a gift from New Matter, the company that creates and sells the machines, and were the first installment of a donation that will occur as part of a partnership between New Matter and the Challenger Center, a network of STEM education centers across the nation and in a few countries. The Scobee Education Center is considered the flagship institution of the Challenger Center.
Steve Schell, the CEO of New Matter, said he became aware of the Challenger Center through one of his customers. As he researched the organization, he saw that their missions were very much aligned.
"We are both incredibly focused on creating the STEM skills in the next generation so they can grow up to be successful scientists or engineers," said Schell.
Lance Bush, the president and CEO of the Challenger Center, said the 3D printers will add a new level of learning for students.
"Even though 3D printers are relatively new to society, they have already been proven as learning tools. The reason is that you can create an idea, design it and make a prototype, and then build it. You can even learn from your mistakes very quickly. Which is not something as an engineer, I could do 20 years ago or even 10 years ago," said Bush.
Jennifer Bacerra, academic program coordinator for the Scobee Education Center, said she was looking forward to incorporating the 3D printers into the space missions the center stages for students.
"Our plan is that during a mission, there is an emergency on a space station or on Mars and they will need to go and create a tool or make a replacement part to complete their mission," she said.
When asked about the new printers, the kids said they thought they were '"very cool" and offered several ideas about what they would like to create, including a map of the world and fidget spinners.
That creativity is what excites both Bush and Schell.
"As a learning tool, it is phenomenal. The kids will shock you with their ingenuity," said Bush.
"When I see kids get their hands on a 3D printer, their eyes light up. It's like magic happening in front of them," added Schell. "Suddenly, they want to get into engineering and learn how to design an object. They will ask themselves 'how am I going to print it and how am I going to test it?' To me that's the goal, to me that's mission accomplished."