3D Printer

The 3D Student-designed objects for How To Make Almost Anything, one of the most popular courses at Spring Lake Park High School, are appearing. The Technology, Engineering and Design elective within the Career and College Pathways offerings provides a jumping off point for students to explore careers as they learn.

Course instructor, Karen Kutz, describes How To Make Almost Anything as “engineering meets arts and crafts.” The course attracts students across grade levels with a variety of backgrounds and interests. Some discover an interest and aptitude that leads them toward engineering courses. Some discover the same for art and design. Some discover none of this is for them – and that’s okay, too.

The career exploration is rich. The course also focuses on developing collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills as students explore ideas and problems. 

“I think it's really fun to see something you make come off a 3D printer,” says Karen. “People really like the idea that they did that, and they were able to design and make that. I'm not grading them on quality of the thing they made, I meet kids where they are. I want them to learn new skills and show me their thinking.”

3D design process

To design the learning, Karen pulls experience gained in her pre-teaching career at Medtronic. There, she had roles in customer service, IT program management and business analysis and continuous process improvement (if you know the lingo, she’s Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt certified). The course is anchored in the district’s 3D design process and concepts of human-centered design.

“Discover is really about figuring out what you want to design,” says Diana Quevedo, 9th grader. “Design is designing it the way you want - seeing and figuring out the problems and making your design. Deliver is getting your product and finding out what you like about it and what you could improve.”

3D Whiteboard with student names

A magnetic whiteboard on the wall has magnets with each student’s name and columns for each of the “D’s.” As students move through the steps, they move their magnet to the step they are on. There are four main projects students tackle in the course – a shoe design, 3D printing, laser cutting and a group problem solving project.

Shoe design kicks everything off to introduce and get students using the 3D design process. Small groups are assigned a persona pulled from Karen’s daughter’s Old Maid game. There’s Officer Olivia, Builder Benjamin, and others. Each persona comes with a story, daily activities and design problems. The assignment is to discover more about their persona’s life and work and design a shoe for them.

Senior Alex Lueth was in a small group for “Bob the Builder.” Alex knew a lot about construction after taking the Intro to Trades course last year. He’s experienced stepping on chicken wire that went through the sole of a tennis shoe and knew firsthand some of the safety issues Bob would have. That firsthand experience helped inform the team's design. 

“We designed a shoe – or boot – with thicker soles,” says Alex.

The chef’s shoe had extra padding for standing a lot in a busy kitchen. The athlete’s shoe had a grippier tread because grip is the core issue their athlete faced.

Alex likes how Ms. Kutz has the class set up. She gives all the work and does instruction up front and then she is available as students direct their own work time. 

“You're able to move at your own pace . . . the steps are clear,” says Alex. "I like learning how to make things on my own. If there's something not working, I try different things and get help from classmates or Ms. Kutz."

Design for self, others

After learning and practicing the 3D design process, students work on two projects on their own – 3D printing and laser cutting. For the 3D printing project, students learn to use OnShape, a computer-aided design (CAD) software, similar to what engineers use, to create their designs. For this assignment students design something for themselves based on their likes and interests.

Diana made a bookend that has a dog and a cat cut out. It can double as a phone holder. She’s in the deliver phase of her project and has her final product in hand.

“So far, the class has been really fun,” says Diana. "I was curious - trying to find something I want to do when I'm older."

Heart Puzzle Design on a computer designed by student Alex L.

Alex is in the design phase and working on the details of a brain teaser puzzle shaped like a heart. There's a base holder and then multiple pieces that fit within it to make the heart.

"I like that I can make my own stuff to match my personality,” says Alex.

Senior Dawn Mack likes engineering a lot and has gone deep in the Technology, Engineering and Design pathway and taken all of the courses other than construction. Dawn’s project is a scale model of the robot the robotics team built last year - complete with articulated parts.

After the 3D printers quiet and projects are wrapped up, the class turns to laser cutting. For this project, students learn how to use Adobe Illustrator to design what will get burned into their wooden projects (coasters, bookmarks, wall art). The assignment also has a twist. They are designing for another person as they explore bias in design.

Alex and Dawn are partners – each other’s “clients.” Alex interviewed Dawn and found out Dawn wants to be an environmental engineer and is interested in Dungeons and Dragons. Alex is designing a piece of D&D wall art (or a coaster) for Dawn. Dawn is making a cat puzzle for Alex – who enjoys both cats and puzzles.

“Designing for someone else has been fun, because it draws on a strength of mind - being able to get in someone else's head,” says Dawn.

Cat puzzle design

Soon, the class will be working in small groups to solve a real problem for the final unit of the trimester. The students will choose a venue, and scenario and imagine problems, before identifying and solving for those problems.

“One venue might be a kitchen and the scenario is making dinner. What problems might happen?” asks Karen. “Or, I'm at Panther Stadium for a game, what could be some problems that could happen?”

The groups independently choose a scenario and design a solution. Over the last six years, Karen has seen prototypes for just about anything you can imagine. There are sunglass goggles – for the beach on a windy day. There are creative nose plugs for walking the halls of the high school – you know, teenage smells. Each group makes a prototype, tests it, and makes a revision.

“Collaboration is a big thing in this class - how do we work together?” says Karen. “For the final project, the groups assign roles and have daily check ins, much like a real job, as they learn how to collaborate and work together toward their goal.”

Discovering what’s next

The use of OnShape and Adobe Illustrator – both industry standard software products – ignites strong feelings among the class. It also can be an indicator of potential future paths.

“OnShape appeals more to the Engineering side as it provides clear dimensions, scale,” says Karen. “For people who like computer-aided design (CAD) using OnShape that they can move on to upper-level engineering classes here,” says Karen. “There are also careers for CAD technicians. With a two-year degree, they can earn a good living short of being a full 4-year degree engineer.”

For those who are more arts and less engineer, there is another path.

Printed 3D heart puzzle

“When students spend time using the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator, they really like the freedom of Adobe. It appeals more to the artists,” says Karen. “For those who really like using Adobe Illustrator, they often look at our design classes and graphic design or computer art through the art department,” says Karen.

From How to Make Almost Anything, students can go deeper into engineering, art, design or try out something totally different. Before they move on, they get to bask in some success and share their work. Projects are posted online and students "vote" and comment on the projects they thought were the best. Alex's heart shaped puzzle was voted 3rd for the 3D printing project.

"The puzzle turned out really well,” says Alex. “I even forgot how to do it. It had me stumped and then I figured it out." 

For Karen, it’s amazing to see what kids figure out. She has shelves dedicated to some of the best and most intricate or complex projects. There are amazing examples. There’s a rocket pencil case, an AT-AT (from Star Wars), ear buds, a chess set, and her personal favorite, keycaps.

“A student was learning Japanese so he made caps for the keyboard to help him be able to type in Japanese,” says Karen shaking her head. “Now, that was a fun one.”

How to Make Almost Anything is one course offering in the Technology, Engineering and Design pathway at Spring Lake Park High School, one of three Career and College Pathways that represent the predicted need for future jobs. Pathways courses offer a variety of ways for students to explore careers, gain hands-on experience, and often, earn college credit.