Kids create mixed-up animals

Starmont third grade students show the 2-D and 3-D results of their work. They are, left to right: Lane German, Sarah Fenton, Savana Mesplay and Aaron Bennett.

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor

What do you get when you cross an elephant with a giraffe and a fish? 

A fishalfint, of course.

How about this one? What do you get when you cross a lantern fish with a giraffe and a turtle?

Give up? The answer is a turflantern.

Third grade art students at Starmont Elementary School had the opportunity to create “new species” as part of a project that combined lessons from science class with the chance to use a new 3-D printer in art class.

“After the third graders studied animals in art class, I had them tale three different ones and combine them to create a new animal,” explained Starmont art instructor Kathleen Sweet. “The created their animal in a 2-D collage and then created their animals in an iPad app to be printed on 3-D printer.”

The school acquired the printer in January. Though she’s used it just with third grade art students and students in the elementary Gifted and Talented program, Sweet plans to use it with other art students beginning next fall.

To understand how a 3-D printer works, toss aside everything you know about conventional printers that spit out a flat piece of paper. First of all, 3-D printers use other  materials like plastic filmaent.

“Instead of one layer of ink (on a piece of paper), you print several layers of filament,” Sweet explained. “The printer keeps laying down layers until it creates a 3-D image. The layers are fused together and sometimes I have to cut stuff off to complete the project.”

Though hardly common especially in schools, 3-D printers are being used more and more in the work world. Sweet believes that early exposure to the technology will help students stay connected to an increasingly technological world.

Sweet was able to operate the printer without any specialized training. However, she did rely on outside help from Keystone Area Education Agency to find a program to create projects.

The reaction to the printer has been exactly what Sweet anticipated.

“Students and adults have been mesmerized by the printer,” she said. “At first, it’s hard to comprehend how it’s doing what it’s doing. The students just stand and stare at it while it prints. The  question they usually ask is ‘How is it doing that?’ Then they want to know when they can do a project with it. It has sparked a lot of creativity. . .all sorts of ideas (for projects) have been suggested.”

The one drawback to the printer is the amount of time it takes to print one project. 

“It doesn’t use a lot of material,” Sweet said, “but it does take a long time. I had 43 students making mixed-up animals and it took 50 or more hours to print.”

Starmont’s new 3-D printer prints one color only. AEA has a two-color printer.

3-D printers are used throughout industry in many applications, including protoypes of everything from machine parts to replacement limbs for the human body.

“It’s an incredible technology,” Sweet said. “I’m so glad our students are getting at least this level of exposure to it.”

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