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Students eating up new STEM class

What seems to be technology of the future is being put to work by Skyview Middle School students in a STEM class – and they’re eating it up.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is a new offering at Skyview this year, and teacher Todd Seip said he’s having a great time introducing the students to a variety of fun, educational activities and ideas.

Already this year, the students have taken advantage of an AutoCAD-type program through which they created a three-dimensional image, and then they got to use the school’s brand-new 3-D printer to create their small objects.

It’s the kind of technology that has been showcased on television and what Seip described as being a wave of the future, but the kids have completely taken it on.

“They don’t look at it as a toy. They took off with it,” Seip said. “The parents come in and it’s like a transporter or something to them, they can’t believe it. But the kids just took to it right away. It’s very interesting to see the two perspectives.”

Students first use a program on an iPad to design a three-dimensional item. They built things like robots, snowmen, dragons, iPod cases or simply “things” that were multidimensional. Then, the information is transferred to a computer program that connects to the 3-D printer.

The printer uses a spool of thread-like plastic (the type of plastic that water bottles are made of, Seip explained), and then the three-dimensional creations are printed one millimeter at a time, row after row. The finished product is a couple of inches tall.

“The best part was the finished product,” said eighth grader Courtney Hocking, “After it was printed off.”

Fellow student Trevor Warren agreed, noting that, “just knowing it was real, and not just on a computer,” was very exciting.

Students in Seip’s classes bubble with excitement as they show off the programs and printer and talk about everything associated with the 3-D printer.

“It’s crazy and awesome,” one student noted, while another said doing something like this in school was “really cool.”

Eighth grader David Uribe said his class has learned about and discussed copyright issues that have arisen since 3-D printing originated, since plans for things are often available online.

Other students talked about scientific developments with the 3-D printer, including simple body parts replacements, or even food.

“They’ve accepted the technology so quickly,” Seip said of his students. “I think it took me longer to learn it than it did them. And we’ve talked about all the economic and other aspects to it too.”

Seip, who had been teaching physical science, was excited to explore the new learning segment with his students. Also on tap through the STEM class are toothpick bridges, Lego robotics, rockets and more.

“Bob (DiPietro, Principal at Skyview) threw out the idea that he wanted to offer a higher-level technology-integrated class,” Seip said. “I’d been working with the STEM club at Cedar Ridge (Elementary) and thought we could bridge the gap there. Plus we were able to get the 3-D printer and the Lego robotics and things. So we’re doing some cool stuff!”

All sixth graders at Skyview will take the STEM class for nine weeks. Seventh and eighth graders can take a semester as an elective if they choose. Since the class is new this year, all the grades are starting at the same ability level, but Seip noted that in the next couple of years, students who have previous experience with the program will be creating some complex items with the 3-D printer.

“It’s been really interesting to look at what came out of their minds, and what they designed in the 3-D space of the iPad,” he said. “I’m having a great time.”

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