Atascocita High School is taking students into the future of technology with the recent purchase of a three-dimensional (3D) printer. This innovative technology produces real-life objects out of plastic material. Instead of printing ink on paper, 3D printers allow students to create tangible models of virtual blueprints using Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) software. Three-dimensional printers have been around for about 20 years, but only recently has the technology been affordable enough for the general public to obtain. When AHS technology teacher Russell Stilley learned that the machine was more accessible, he made efforts to obtain a 3D printer for the school by applying for a grant through Humble ISD’s Education Foundation. “The Foundation's Grant Review Committee was excited to bring this new technology into Humble ISD classrooms and approved his grant request,” said Jerri Monbaron, Director of Humble ISD's Office of Community Development. Nearly a year later, students are now creating virtual designs, which will soon be transformed into real-life 3D models. “I wanted to provide my students with the same tools that professionals in major industries are using,” Stilley said. “This 3D printing technology has really helped to engage students and get them excited about learning. I got the printer for students to motivate them to do well in school and encourage them to pursue careers in math and science fields, like engineering and architecture.” Since he began teaching at AHS, Stilley has been committed to fostering a learning environment that provides the best education for students of all backgrounds. Incorporating the 3D printer into the curriculum was his way of providing a stimulating experience for all students in his engineering and designing classes. “This machine allows them to touch, feel and look at objects from all angles, and students get really excited about watching objects they have designed come to life,” Stilley said. This printing technology is also used in other occupations, including the medical field. “Not only are there careers available for making 3D printers, but now professionals outside of architecture and engineering fields are utilizing this technology. In the medical field, doctors are using 3D printers to make body parts, organs. It’s amazing what this technology has to offer.” The process of producing 3D models begins with students designing objects on the computer using AutoCAD, a modern tool, commonly used by manufacturers to design virtual 3D drawings. Next, 3D designs are virtually transported to the printer. The printer interprets this data and creates objects out of thin strips of plastic from the bottom up. Technology classes at AHS have already begun using the 3D printer to produce miniature models of architectural buildings. Several of these models have been displayed for students, faculty, and staff, to showcase the machine’s printing capabilities. “In technology classes, students are currently designing 3D houses,” Stilley said. “Each model will be an exact replica of student’s homes. They will actually get to take the roof off of the model home and look at all the features inside of the house.” Stilley is helping his engineer classes revolutionize the way students with disabilities function in class. For the next project, students will create a device that can be attached to an arm cast to help students take notes. The device will have the capabilities of a hand, but it will be manufactured with the composition of a plastic grabbing tool. “We wanted to use this technology to help others, so students will eventually work on a tool which will help students take notes in class without them having to use their hand,” Stilley said. Stilley expects the new 3D printer to have long-term benefits. “This machinery teaches students teamwork, much like real manufacturing and engineering professions. I strongly believe that 3D printing will not only prepare students for the future in technology, but it will also motivate students to use creativity to design products.”

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