3D-printed robots teach kids science

Children at a U.S. grade school are learning about technology by making inexpensive 3D-printed robots.

 Children at a U.S. grade school are learning about technology by making inexpensive 3D-printed robots, and the courseware is available for students almost anywhere.

Brian Patton, an elementary and middle school science teacher at Princeton Friends School in Princeton, New Jersey, is using 3D printing to engage children in science, technology and math (STEM). Kids as young as 11-12 are creating robots in Patton's classes, a recent blog post by 3D printer manufacturer Solidoodle says.

Building robots is a new Trojan horse for teaching STEM, and Patton has observed that robotics is very engaging for female students who may not otherwise have been as interested in computer science as male students (female students react more favorably to the facial expression robots vs. things like fighting robots linked  in the video below). The technology has also been used as a tool for emotional amplification with special needs students.

UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute has found that only 1% of students are majoring in computer science, and 0.3% of those are women, despite computer science skills being in high demand. Patton believes that robotics can help address that asymmetry by making computing more interesting for girls.

Aside from teaching, Patton develops curriculums and robotics kits for educational use through robodyssey.com. He serves as vice president of Robodyssey Systems. While he focuses on science, arts education can also benefit.

Schools are using 3D printing for applications beyond science and engineering such as shop, art and design, and computer science classes, said Yahea Abdulla, Solidoodle's director of media relations. That's significant because 3D printing is gaining a foothold in industry from playtime to transportation and everything in between. The toy company Mattel creates product prototypes from wax and clay; General Electric is testing 3D-printed engine parts.

Students are gaining access to the same technology that is innovating manufacturing, and not just the big Fortune 500s; small "garage" start-ups are using it too. Even dresses and jewelry are being produced by 3D printers. Today's school children can have a creative outlet that is far more diversified than "home-ec" ever was.

See here for an additional video from Patton's class, "Sumo Robots."

(image credit: YouTube)

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