MakerBot Innovation Center is a popular, large-scale option for universities that want to offer students wider access to 3D printing to teach ideation, problem solving, and iteration. On a K-12 level, however, most schools have traditionally purchased individual 3D printers to explore what’s possible and teach real-world problem-solving. As more and more schools across the U.S. embrace 3D printing and its benefits, administrators and teachers must find an effective way to make the technology accessible to more students. Mount Olive High School (MOHS) in New Jersey first received a MakerBot Replicator 2X as a donation from the Josh and Judy Weston Family Foundation in 2013. Megan Boyd and David Bodmer, two teachers at MOHS, started incorporating 3D printing into their curriculum. After numerous classroom projects and strong demand from their students, they decided in the spring of 2016 with the support of the school district to massively elevate 3D printing by installing a MakerBot Innovation Center, making MOHS the first secondary school worldwide with such an offering.

“Our goal with the MakerBot Innovation Center is to provide students a learning environment that replicates what industry is like,” said Megan Boyd. “We’ve been talking to many leaders at the college and industry level to better understand what skills students will need to succeed. We heard over and over again that in our rapidly evolving economy, skills like problem-solving and collaboration will be much more important for students than purely technical skills. The MakerBot Innovation Center will help us teach these skills as it offers a very different, more hands-on learning environment that gives students more freedom to experiment, learn from failure and progress their thinking.”

The MakerBot Innovation Center at MOHS is part of the Marauder Innovation Learning Lab (MiLL), a STEAM-focused (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) learning space. The MiLL houses a ThinkerSpace and a Workshop area, the first being a place where students can meet and discuss projects, while the second houses workbenches and tools to take prototypes to the next level. Overall, the MiLL aims to bring together different faculties so students can learn how to approach problems in a holistic way.  The two main courses currently offered are engineering and industrial design.

3D printing is an important medium for students to test their ideas and the MakerBot Innovation Center allows them to experiment more and feel more confident in taking risks. “With access to 33 MakerBot 3D Printers, we can print entire class loads at once without having to individually load prints onto a flash drive and cue them for printing,” said Boyd. This faster output makes a profound difference in how students are able to work on their projects. They can now get feedback on their designs within hours as opposed to several weeks with traditional prototyping methods or at least a day with individual printers. “When you can quickly make changes and evolve your idea, it’s easier to take criticism from others,” said David Bodmer. “We consider that part of the core skill set that students need to succeed.  Students need to learn to be flexible in their thinking and be receptive to feedback to refine and develop their ideas. We don’t know what these students will end up doing when they enter the job market but these are the type of skills that will benefit them in any career path.”

Over the last three months, students have already printed over 700 objects in the MakerBot Innovation Center at MOHS. Students usually start with learning the basics of print preparation and 3D printing by downloading objects from MakerBot Thingiverse, which is the largest 3D printing community in the world.

“It’s been awesome to bring the two faculties together and see how students can benefit from different viewpoints,” said Bodmer. “While our engineering courses are focused on the more technical aspects of prototyping, such as assembly design, our industrial design classes very much focus on product design, aesthetics, and user experience. Combining the arts with more traditional STEM learning is really where the magic happens.”  In a recent course, for example, students had to study the different historical industrial design movements and then design and print a chess set inspired by a particular style.

Boyd and Bodmer have big plans for the MiLL and the MakerBot Innovation Center.  They are already working on a STEAM Capstone course for 2017 that will allow students to apply their newly learned skills in real-world settings. The plan is to partner with different local companies and nonprofit organizations that can involve groups of students in different projects and evaluate their work. “That’s where we ultimately want to be,” explained Boyd. “Students first learn basic skills that then enable them to pursue areas or projects they are passionate about.  We will give them as much freedom as we can. It’s very well possible that some of them will even start their own Kickstarter campaigns in the future.”

The MakerBot Innovation Center at MOHS has been financed with help from the Department of Defense and the local Board of Education. MakerBot both helped set up the MakerBot Innovation Center and train school staff. “We’re excited to see the first MakerBot Innovation Center at a high school open in Mount Olive,” said Lauren Goglick, General Manager, North America at MakerBot. “The work Megan Boyd and David Bodmer are doing there is truly inspiring and we can’t wait to see the student-projects that will come out of the MiLL.”

At the core of the MakerBot Innovation Center is the MakerBot Innovation Center Management Platform, a proprietary 3D printing software platform that links the MakerBot Replicator 3D Printers together, streamlines productivity and staffing, and enables remote access, print queuing, and mass production of 3D prints. For more information on MakerBot Innovation Centers, email innovation@makerbot.com, visit makerbot.com/innovation-center or call toll-free 855-347-4780.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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