CHARLOTTESVILLE — For many 14-year-olds, it’ll be years before they discover what they want to pursue as a profession, but Lane Coffin is positive when he says he wants to become a commercial airline pilot.
He’s known since third grade, and he’s prepared to do whatever he can to get there.
Even if it means going back to school during the summer.
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Lane and 28 other local students who will be entering Grades 4 through 12 this school year attended 3-D printing camps at the district’s elementary, middle and high schools this week.
The four-day camps, which have run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily since Monday, are leading students through a series of activities ranging from basic design principles for 3-D modeling to complex configurations to print tiny cars.
“It’s amazing,” Lane said, describing the 3-D printing process. “We can take an image in our head, put it into a computer and turn it into something real.”
Lane, an incoming freshman at Eastern Hancock High School, decided to sign up for the class partly to familiarize himself with the equipment, which he’ll use in his upcoming introduction to engineering and design class but also because he has a budding interest in emerging technologies.
“Since 3-D printing is still pretty new, I want to learn as much as I can about it,” he said. “I like coming up with random ideas and trying to see if I can make them work.”
The camp is sponsored by 1st Maker Space, an education initiative led by 3DParts Manufacturing, an Indianapolis company that uses 3-D printers to produce prototypes and tools for other businesses.
3DParts Manufacturing gave two 3-D printers at no cost to the district last spring and asked that the schools hold the camps to teach students how to use them. Eastern Hancock has since integrated the printers into technology curricula at all three of its schools.
The camps offer many advantages to students, said Michael Galyan, who’s leading the high school group of campers and teaches engineering during the school year.
“A lot of the kids aren’t exposed to this stuff on their own, so if we get them interested in it now, then they can explore those interests the rest of their lives,” he said.
Dana Allen, a fifth-grade teacher at Eastern Hancock Elementary School, agreed, adding that the high potential of the machines matches her students’ ambitions.
“They’re so imaginative,” said Allen, who’s leading the camp for incoming fourth- and fifth-graders. “They’re really receptive to it, and many of them are even teaching me things about it all day long. I can only dream of the ideas they’ll be capable of as adults after having had these experiences as kids.”
The process begins by designing an object in a 3-D software program, which maps out the shape of the design. The printers then produce thin, precisely measured layers of liquid plastic one at a time. The plastic dries rapidly, and the printer continues, building layer by layer until an object emerges.
The printers can be used to manufacture nearly anything, said Dawson Willis, an intern for 3DParts Manufacturing who’s helping to lead all three classes this week.
“(The printers) can be used to solve problems and create solutions,” he said. “So if something plastic breaks, we can probably make a new one with them.”
The skills taught to students through the program could benefit students long after they graduate from high school, Galyan said.
“Engineering is everywhere,” he said.
“It’s a constantly growing field, and all objects have to be designed by someone somewhere.”