A cutting-edge classroom

Tech arts: Students learn via 3-D printer, laser cutter

lpemberton@theolympian.comOctober 8, 2012 

A wall with large windows divides Brian Morris’s teaching space at Washington Middle School in Olympia.

On one side, there are tables with computer monitors and keyboards, as well as a three-dimensional printer and a laser engraver.

On the other side, there are

racks of safety goggles, pieces of lumber leaning up against the wall, and all of the traditional and power tools you would expect in a wood shop.

Welcome to Tech Arts, a class where students use computer software programs to design the projects they want to build out of wood, plastic and other materials.

“It used to be industrial arts,” said Morris, who has taught at the school for 28 years. “Now we’re incorporating technology.”

Tech Arts is a quarter-long elective for students in grades 6-8. Students use computer software programs such as “Sketch Up,” Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to design their projects. Then, they can build them with woodworking tools, etch them with a laser cutter or create them with a 3-D printer – a machine that fabricates items by stacking thin layers of plastic material on top of each other.

“That’s cutting-edge technology for a lot of industries right now,” Morris said.

Eighth-grader Aubrey Adams, 13, described the class as straight-forward and easy, “If you pay attention.”

“It’s a good way to be creative because you can make anything you want,” she said as she worked on a design for a wooden rack to hold bottles of nail polish.

“This class is really fun,” added Cameron Johnson, 14, an eighth-grader.

But it’s also a class that’s better preparing students for engineering and material-science programs in high school and beyond, said Brad Hooper, director of Career and Technical Education for the Olympia School District.

“It’s trying to really grasp them at an earlier age, what they like to do and what they want to do as a career,” he said.

The 3-D printer was purchased last year, and cost about $10,000; the laser cutter was bought this year, and cost about $12,000, Morris said.

Similar machines were purchased for Reeves Middle School and Capital and Olympia high schools, and all were paid for with a mix of grants and enhanced funding that the state provides for CTE programs, Hooper said.

Eventually, he hopes the machines will pay for themselves by becoming tools for school-based businesses.

For example, Tech Arts students could use the laser cutter to engrave people’s names on iPods or cellphones, Hooper said. Or, they could create items with the 3-D printer that could be sold to community organizations or to students.

“Treat it like a real-life business, where kids can raise their own money and they can decide as a class (what to spend the profits on),” he said.

Morris’s students already have used the 3-D printer to create several pieces of jewelry, business-card holders and trinket boxes. They’ve also used the laser cutter to engrave designs on bottles, wood and stone.

Eighth-grader Harry Collet, 13, has used the laser cutter to create coasters for his family using scrap pieces of granite that were donated by a local company.

He said the class takes a lot of precision and perseverance, but the hard work is worth it.

“I like that you can build stuff that’s going to actually matter to me,” Collet said.

Want to help?

Washington Middle School’s Tech Arts classes can use donations of leather, plastic, glass, wood, cardstock and corkboard for student projects. To donate, contact teacher Brian Morris at 360-596-3000 or bmorris@osd.wednet.edu.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/edblog

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