3D Printing in Educational Contexts

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx. The sign next to the printer reads Now Printing: Hatshepsut Sphinx. Two additional red sphinx lie to the left of the sign.

When folks come face-to-face with the 3D printer at the Earl Center, you can usually hear “That’s so cool!”, “What’s printing?”, or “Can I use this? We have a little spiel that gives folks the rundown: Yes, you can print something, we can help you!  Right now it’s printing a map of Wheelock, or a sphinx, a turtle doorstop.

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx. The sign next to the printer reads Now Printing: Hatshepsut Sphinx. Two additional red sphinx lie to the left of the sign.

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx.

Another question to ask is how 3D printers can be used in educational contexts. In the classroom, and in the real world. Here are a few ways:

Teachers have tangible visuals for their students. Whether students learn better hands on, or use the model to form a visual of their own, 3D printing encourages inclusive classroom learning. For example, we’ve printed labyrinths for one class, and a made a 3D version of a frog skeleton, for another class.

Tangible artifacts can also include historical artifacts, or objects that students can create. Ask Mare, the Assistant Director of the Earl Center, or one of the Earl Center workers at the Service Desk for a demo in Tinkercad. Taking a project from start to finish allows students the chance to see examples of history while building new skills at the same time.

Students have better chances of retaining the information from class if they can interact with the material! There’s no way to go wrong- if you mess up, just fix and print it again. This trial and error process of paper to object helps students develop problem solving skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce. Students also have the chance to design their own curriculum based on what they want to learn.

Looking for some other examples of what you can print for the classroom? Here are a few ideas:

  • Molecules
  • Planets
  • Shapes or objects (Useful for math lessons!)
  • 3D models of student art
  • Historical models or busts (Check out our mini-Beethoven bust!)
  • Replacement parts or cases
  • Name tags (Keep a lookout for some at the Earl Center!)

To learn more about the industry take on 3D printing, check out this video! Closed captions available.


For lesson plan ideas and more from an education technologist’s point of view, check out Kathy Schrock’s blog post about 3D printing in the classroom.

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The Incredible Nature of Service Animals

Who doesn’t love a service dog, right? I’ve always been curious as to how these guys (and gals) are trained to be such incredible creatures. They can pick things up that are the size of a dime, they can predict medical incidents (like seizures) up to 24 hours in advance, and can even answer the phone! Service dogs can be trained to be companions to people with physical or mental disabilities, the elderly, and are often used in libraries and schools to help children increase their self-confidence when it comes to reading. Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Although most service dogs you see are breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, a few organizations are making it a point now to exclusively train Pit Bulls to battle their negative reputation (The Animal Farm Foundation’s Assistance Dog Training Program and Pits for Patriots). Some service dog training programs select rescue dogs from shelters to provide service to those who need them, and some people even choose to have their own dog trained to provide specialized service based on their needs – it’s incredible.


photo by Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs July 03, 2008 “WAHIAWA, Hawaii – Donated and specially bred service dogs of Hawaii Fi-Do pause for a photograph during a training session. The specially trained dogs provide physical, psychological and therapeutic support for people who face the daily challenges of life with a disability other than blindness.” https://flic.kr/p/53RLwe

Okay, so let me begin by saying everyone should read this article – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/magazine/wonder-dog.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 It’s a real tear-jerker, so get a cup of tea and a box of tissues and lock yourself in the privacy of your own home. I made the mistake of reading it at work and had to hold back the tears. The article chronicles the pairing of a young boy with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder named Iyal and an unwanted Golden Retriever named Chancer. That’s all I’ll tell you. It’s a tragically heartwarming story and it’s super informative too!

There are so many great things about service dogs. Obviously they’re helping their owner become more independent, and this means that they’re doing a lot of the physical work a caregiver or family member may have had to do before. Everybody gains independence, which is priceless. Like I mentioned earlier, some service dogs are rescues. These programs are saving the lives of dogs that may have otherwise been left behind. And they’re getting these unbelievably important life-saving jobs that they should be incredibly proud of. Dogs are capable of giving insane amounts of unconditional love, and these pairings usually end in a BFF status. As the New York Times article states, “Dogs evolved over at least 15,000 years to know and like humankind as well as, or better than, we know and like ourselves”. I’m a cat-owner and cat-lover, but can see this dynamic 100% of the time in people and their dogs. And I can also see why service dogs are a more popular trend than service cats – although they do exist, my cat would have flunked out of the program during the first training sesh. Fun side-note: service miniature horses also exist, according to the ADA. Apparently, the ADA used to define service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal”, but due to people employing wild animals as service animals, they have now eliminated certain species. Here’s the link to what the ADA has to say about service animals: http://www.ada.gov/archive/NPRM2008/titleii.htm#toc_16

Training a service dog is a really expensive part of the whole service dog program. Some programs use inmates to train the dogs, which is so cool (and inexpensive). The inmates, like the dogs, now have this life-changing opportunity to make a huge difference in a stranger’s life. And the inmates, like the dogs, take these jobs seriously. One program, called Puppies Behind Bars trains prison inmates to raise dogs for war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Here’s a great photo series on the program: http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1911990_1913005,00.html

And a recent article on Puppies Behind Bars: http://news10.com/2015/02/11/special-report-inmates-train-puppies-to-help-wounded-veterans/

Another program, called 4 Paws for Ability – Missions Pawsible works within the prison system as well. 4 Paws for Ability trains dogs specifically to work with children who have disabilities. All of these programs operating within prisons select inmates who have earned a high merit within the community. Inmates say that spending time with these dogs decreases high levels of stress and anxiety, and teaches them unconditional love and acceptance, which is not something commonly found within the prison system.


Training these dogs is always specifically tailored to the person the dog will be paired with. They are taught specific skills depending on the needs of their new owner. For example, in the New York Times article (link above), Chancer was taught to anticipate and neutralize his owner’s tantrums and meltdowns. Although this is a physical demand, there is a larger emotional and psychological need that is being treated. Some dogs are trained solely to meet the physical needs of their owners, like leading the visually impaired, or opening doors or grabbing a water from the fridge.

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive summary of all things service dog related, just a few things I found interesting on the topic. There are so many amazing stories about service dogs and their owners, all the lives that have been saved by these guys – from the physically and mentally disabled, to the dogs rescued from shelters, and the inmates who train them. The whole story, from beginning to end continues to amaze me.

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News from the Front

Hall at FETC conferenceI have just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Sad to say the weather in Orlando wasn’t much better than here. The conference has been going on for 35 years and participants have seen incredible changes in that time. While the conference was framed around technology, the message that it conveyed was one of creativity, community, compassion and cooperation.

I was particularly stuck with the advances in assistive technology for people with disabilities. What was once very esoteric and expensive has now become part of many common devices. Specific applications are almost magical. One in particular that was showcased was a free app called Taptapsee. It is a camertaptapsee logoa for blind and visually impaired people. By pointing the camera at an object, a scene or something that the person wonders about and tapping twice the camera takes a picture and searches the web. It comes back with a description of what the camera sees, be that a five dollar bill or the Dallas Cheerleaders. It is eerily accurate.  There is also a Tap Tap app for people who are deaf to alert them to loud sounds nearby. That one costs $2.99.

STEM and STEAM products and sessions were everywhere and there was a sense of the importance of play. Play was stressed in the keynotes as well as the sessions.  Students creating content, real life-changing content was another thread that ran through it all. The stress wasn’t on preparing students for future life and jobs but on making real life significant contributions now. Not having the right tools to accomplish this is no longer a problem.  It was generally acknowledged that the jobs of the future may not exist yet.

Gaming was a very hot topic. Minecraft in particular has become very popular with the minecraft landscapenew release of Minecraft for Education. There are modifications that allow teaching quantum mechanics among other things.  Cooperation, physics and architecture were commonly cited as outcomes in class. The quantum physics part was cool– I actually understood it! Along with coding (another hot topic) there are a tremendous number of resources to assist teachers to incorporate game design, coding, robotics and use into their classrooms. All of these possibilities come with core relationships built in so that the justifications are available when you want to incorporate them into curriculum. We will be offering resources to explore these things in the Earl Center and you can also ask your nearest 11 year old.

In some school systems they have replaced children with robots—that is, children who can’tvgo robot attend school due to health or other conditions can now attend as a Vgo. This is a shiny white robot on wheels with a screen face and a camera and microphone. On wheels, like a Segway it can roll around a school allowing the student to attend classes and interact with teachers and peers. The student at home controls the Vgo with a laptop.

As I sift through the 25 pounds of literature I collected and re-listen to my recordings and notes I will be sharing more. Stay tuned.

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Dog B.O.N.E.S. Workshop Recap

A little while ago we were lucky enough to host two Reading Partner Teams from Dog B.O.N.E.S., a Massachusetts Therapy Dog Non-Profit Corporation. Brittany and Anne, the two dog owners, gave workshop attendees insight into what it is like to be part of a Reading Partner Team, along with their wonderful dogs Charley and Mariah.

Dog Therapy

Anne and Mariah, Brittany and Charley

Brittany and Anne shared stories of watching young readers open up to the dogs in ways that the didn’t often to do with people–because dogs do not judge when you read aloud, they only listen. The women talked about the process of becoming a Reading Partner Team–what kind of temperament a dog needs to have, and what the owner’s role is during the reading session. For the most part, the owner is just there to supervise the interaction with the dog, and they take great care not to correct or interfere with the reading, as the practice of reading to the dog is about building confidence.

Dog Therapy

Mariah meets a new friend

Workshop attendees posed questions about the children’s progress in reading comprehension, and while Anne and Brittany are not privy to the official testing that students in schools go through after participating in a Reading Partners program, they have seen most students make great strides in confidence, comprehension and even comfort level with animals. Anne also discussed the work Mariah has done in other settings, like correctional facilities, and how the dog’s presence there can be therapeutic as well. Brittany and Anne’s passion for their work with young people and beyond really shined through in the conversation, and we look forward to having them back again.

After a great conversation that lasted about an hour, workshop participant hung around to spend a little extra time with Charley and Mariah. Because, after all, everyone can use a little dog therapy–especially stressed out students! Check out the slideshow below for more pictures of the event.

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