Morrill 3D print Ultimaker 1

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day Maker Lab: Inspiring through innovation

  • Education

Educator Rob Morrill holds a Master’s degree in English—along with an undeniable knack for technology. After teaching high school English for 19 years, he transitioned to his current role at the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day Maker Lab. Today, Rob is focused on guiding young minds through the 3D printing and digital design process to teach the importance of additive manufacturing.

Encouraging the innovative mindset

After using an Ultimaker for various personal projects, Rob Morrill saw the value 3D printing could bring to the educational space. He began introducing the 3D printing process to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day in 2015 and saw an immediate interest from students. Additive manufacturing, he says, is the perfect way to teach young learners that they’re not only consumers but also creatives capable of conceiving an idea and bringing it to life in a matter of hours.

Students working on 3D design
Students working on 3D designs for Mars-based Martian colonies

3D printing is an incredibly powerful way to help students acquire that transformative maker mindset.

They were more than ready for the challenge, too. Rob initially found it both exciting and alarming that he was only slightly ahead of his students when it came to the 3D printing learning curve. They were eager to learn and adapt to this new technology through Rob’s multifaceted teaching style, encouraged to pull from various talents in their 3D printing endeavors.

3D printed martian colonies
3D-printed ideation of Mars-based Martian colonies designed by 5th graders

“One trait of my teaching is that different domains, technologies, and skill sets end up cross-pollinating one-another,” Rob explains. “For example, combining 3D printing with coding or a lesson in physics or electronics. When adults create interesting and powerful things, they often use several tools and approaches in conjunction, so I think introducing and reinforcing that approach in students is important and stimulating.”

Bringing 3D prints to life with Ultimaker

Ease of use, reliability, and quality were essential features that Rob considered when deciding to bring 3D printers into his curriculum. The St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day Maker Lab now has two Ultimaker printers available to students and faculty; an Ultimaker 2 and an Ultimaker 2+ with an extrusion upgrade. Of the physical features he appreciates about Ultimaker, Rob says that the LED-lit, enclosed print environment is impressive, as it allows students to clearly see their creations coming to life.

There is just something miraculous about 3D printing, and I love how the lights and white walls let people appreciate the magic.

Ultimaker 3D printed ocean colony
A floating ocean colony designed by students and printed on an Ultimaker 2

Thinking outside the box with creative projects

By finding ways to incorporate 3D printing into a variety of curriculum activities, Rob challenges his students to think outside the box. Some of his most successful classroom projects include crumple zone bumpers for CO2-powered crash test cars designed and printed by 5th graders and floating ocean colonies that captured his students’ imaginations. He hopes that by training his 5th graders on how to use CAD software and how to 3D print, he’ll inspire older students to welcome the technology across all areas of study.

3D printed crash test car
A crumple zone crash test car designed and 3D printed by Rob
3D printed bumpers
Crumple zone bumpers designed and 3D printed by students

Though the printers are most heavily used by the 5th graders at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day, Rob also designs and prints objects for fellow faculty members, such as math manipulatives. The reaction from students and teachers when they experience 3D printing for the first time is unforgettable, bolstering the value of 3D printing in education.

My students are mesmerized as they watch their prints build up, and they love being handed a real-world artifact of their digital imagining.

Student with Ultimaker print
A student with a 3D print created using Ultimaker
Ultimaker print from student
Students celebrating Valentine's Day with 3D printing

An important takeaway he hopes students and faculty leave with is the power and necessity of iteration. “Students quickly see the value in being able to print a design, then iterating it after testing in the real world,” Rob says. “This is great because it applies to many areas of life.” Whether working on a school project or conceptualizing an invention, the additive manufacturing process teaches irreplaceable skills that young learners can carry with them after graduation.

Solving real-world problems with 3D printing

Whenever he encounters a problem or roadblock in the classroom, Rob asks himself: “How can 3D printing solve that?” As an example, his first-grade students were coding simple robots but were unable to effectively iterate their code because they couldn’t record it reliably and easily. To solve this issue he created interlocking coding tiles that let them record and iterate with a kinesthetic connection to their work.

3D print designed with Turtle Blocks
A student holding a 3D print that she designed using Turtle Blocks and printed on Ultimaker

Rob understands that the future of 3D printing heavily relies on such creative problem solving, fostering environments in which students have the tools they need to climb over similar obstacles. The 3D printing process can help teach the value, necessity, and power of innovation, which is a very helpful mindset to develop at such a young age.

If they seize opportunities to learn and do, then they have a huge amount of agency.

By providing a space for students to design, iterate, and print objects from their own imaginations, the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day Maker Lab is able to amplify the learning experience in meaningful, impactful ways.

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