By Emily Nagle
The Meridian Times
Haslett Middle School’s eighth grade classroom receives a 3-D printer after receiving a grant from the MSU School of Engineering.
Haslett Middle School science teachers Brandy Butcher and Phil Rutkowski attended a Research Education for Teachers program over the summer that was sponsored by MSU through the National Science Foundation. In return, MSU has given the classroom new equipment to benefit the learning environment.
The 3-D printer is used in Rutkowski’s science classroom lessons for eighth grade students in his exploratory class.
Rutkowski starts off his lessons with a review of biomimicry, which is finding sustainable solutions to human challenges by imitating nature’s models.
Rutkowski then has students imitate the prototype robot he made until the students are ready to make their own mold in the 3-D computer program to form a better robot.
When students complete their designs for a new mold, they send Rutkowski the document.
However, Rutkowski said the 3-D program where the students make their models often miscommunicates with the printer due to confusion in the process of moving files.
“Its unfortunate but it’s a part of the learning experience,” Rutkowski said. “If everything worked the first time, we wouldn’t need engineers.”
Rutkowski said he tries to inspire his students to always explore and discover new things, and having the 3-D printer allows the students to act on their ideas through critical thinking.
“In middle school, kids get to explore something they never really thought of. If I present it right, the world is their oyster,” Rutkowski said. “It opens up the door, an exploratory door that they may never have thought of before.”
The most important part of the lesson is to get the eighth grade students to think critically and learn by trial and error.
“They don’t have that problem solving brain yet,” Rutkowski said. “They get some interesting ideas, then they create more problems sometimes with their solutions, but I let ’em go. I let ’em explore. That’s the reality of it how’s that going to work.”
The 3-D printer as well as all its necessary supplies, such as the plastic and liquids for the mold and filling, was given to the middle school by MSU’s School of Engineering grant, Rutkowski said.
The grant for Rutkowski’s classroom equipment included $1,200 for the entire year and also includes the printer that was given to him in the beginning of the school year by MSU’s School of Engineering.
The person in contact with Haslett Middle School about the program was Andrew Kim, assistant to the dean for recruitment and K-12 outreach at MSU, Rutkowski said.
During the 6-week summer program, Kim paired Rutkowski and 7th grade science teacher Brandy Butcher with graduate students to work with them every day.
The teachers who attended were paired with the graduate students so they could see what it’s like to do research in engineering within all it’s different divisions, such as computer science, mechanical and electrical.
“When teachers are training to be a teacher, a lot of them never go into a lab to see what the engineering process or scientific method really is, so this gives them the chance to get in there and do it,” Butcher said.
Butcher’s focus was learning the mechanical engineering of the robots and trying to learn to control their actions.
“There’s a gap between content science and especially with all this engineering and STEM connections, they want teachers to be able to have that experience,” Butcher said.
While teachers update their lessons, they try to find new ways to keep kids interested in learning.
“Positive teaching would instill in students the desire to keep on learning themselves as they go through life and to help students see that there is a reward in learning things for their own sake as well as what they can do for you,” co-director of education policy Robert Floden said.
Using the printer in the classroom has exponentially increased the students’ desire to learn, Rutkowski said.
“They want to print everything. I actually have to limit what they’re doing,” Rutkowski said. “The focus just has to be toward a curriculum goal.”
While the students are learning more about new technology, they are experiencing the difficulties that come from experimenting with new technology.
“From a teaching point of view, we all learn together, and as technology changes in the world, we all learn together,” Rutkowski said. “It’s a community learning piece. We’re influencing the way our work will be later.”
Rutkowski and Butcher plan to combine the use of the printer for more classes, but need to first fix any problems they may have with it.
“Were not there yet,” Butcher said. “It takes a lot of baby steps to work out the bugs.”