Eighth graders create a device for a student with a disability using 3D design software and 3D printing

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Eighth graders create a device for a student with a disability using 3D design software and 3D printing

It all started when Arlington, VA resident Aneesh Chopra, the first US Chief Technology Officer appointed by President Barack Obama, tweeted at Carl Bass, Autodesk’s President and CEO. Less than a year after Chopra tweeted asking how Arlington Public Schools could access the company’s latest design software, Autodesk and the district signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the company’s commitment to operate schools with technology, including Autodesk Fusion 360.

Dan Banach, head of education programs for Autodesk, said a few schools in Arlington have really “dived” into Fusion 360, but educators and students at Swanson Middle School have incorporated the design software into their curriculum. a particularly innovative way.

Stephen's deviceKris Martini, director of vocational, technical and adult education at Arlington Public Schools, said The newspaper that a Swanson educator was approached by a colleague who was looking for a way to replace the PVC pipe with a pencil (pictured left) that his son Stephen used to operate the communication device on his wheelchair. The request gave technology instructor Jim DeMarino an idea for a class project that would take advantage of new technology in the district and help a member of his community.

Asked to solve this real-world problem, a class of eighth-grade engineering students got to work the same way they always do: brainstorming, sketching, and discussing their design options with each other. . Once they came up with their ideas, the students moved on to the classroom computers to begin designing their models using Fusion 360.

Martini said using Autodesk gave students freedom in the early stages of the design process. “They’re kind of drawing it and drawing it,” he said, “and they’re not really concerned with ‘Well, how do I draw that?’ because they have that kind of piece of clay and they can model their design from that. Once the students had their plans ready, Martini says, they could “bring them to our [MakerBot] 3D printer and print this design and hold it and touch it and see how it works and make changes very quickly.

Before acquiring the software from Autodesk, these students had used materials like cardboard and wood to build their models. Martini noted that this mechanical design process has its drawbacks: cutting out elements and making precise measurements can be more difficult for some students than others. With a digital design platform like Fusion 360, students can rely on the precision of computers instead of trying to imitate it by hand. Martini also said his students are now learning to deal with the various challenges that 3D printing presents, such as where to place supports when models are cool and how to account for the sag that occurs after printing. impression.

Autodesk prototypeAfter testing and redesigning their prototypes (one pictured at left), the students presented their designs to Stephen’s mother and his occupational therapist, who selected the top three designs that they thought would work best. The class finished the 2013-2014 school year in search of the best design and will pick up where they left off this fall.

Martini said the project had a powerful impact on his students. “We can give them lots of activities and projects to do, but seeing them change someone’s life is a unique experience.

Districts looking to implement 3D design software can apply to Autodesk’s Design the Future program, which provides high schools and colleges in the United States and Canada with free software, programs and training.

Autodesk’s Banach said the program provides students with the same software used by the company’s commercial customers. “This means that the tools students are learning about today are exactly the tools they will use when they are in the industry.”

Banach concluded, “You probably don’t hear a lot of high school kids say, ‘I want to be a mechanical engineer,’ because that’s just not what they think. But we find these students early enough that if they start thinking only about solving problems, this may just be one of the tools to help them do so. Now they are exposed to career opportunities they would have had no idea about.

About the Author


Julia Sufrin is a contributing writer based in Los Angeles.