Recent News

April 22, 2016

Educational Enthusiasm STEMming From the Third Dimension

United Way of Greater Cincinnati is constantly looking for new and innovative methods of advancing the common good and improving lives in our region. United Way affinity groups Women of Tocqueville (WoT, formerly Women’s Leadership Council) and Women Investing in the Next Generation (WINGs) were recently looking for a new project to get involved with, and were able to latch on to one which perfectly aligned to innovation.

In a meeting with Mary Adams of the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative (GCSC), WoT and WINGs members were pitched the 3D Printer Club—where students design and print solid objects from digital files, as a means to introduce Tri-State students to STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. These interdisciplinary focus areas describe the skills and knowledge essential for student success. The club was modeled after GCSC’s successful STEM Bicycle Clubs, created with the purpose of “engaging students and sparking their interest in STEM education and careers,” according to Adams, the project manager of the clubs.

Approximately 20 volunteer mentors from WoT and WINGs signed up to participate in the project with nine fifth-grade female students from South Avondale Elementary.

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“Once we decided to participate we knew we wanted to pick a school close to United Way,” said Kelly Dehan, who managed the project on the volunteer side. “The folks at South Avondale were very receptive, appreciative and great to work with.”

Having virtually no knowledge of what 3D printing was or how it worked, Dehan, along with South Avondale science teacher Tiffani Wharton, attended a workshop at Northern Kentucky University last Fall to learn the basics. Wharton, in conjunction with GCSC, mapped out the curriculum for the 10-week after-school club.

“It was very refreshing to have people invest their time and come back week after week to help our students,” Wharton said.

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“We greatly appreciate volunteers’ willingness to be engaged with the students, and for giving their time and effort to help our youth,” said Mike Allison, principal of South Avondale Elementary. “I want to thank United Way for their support. If the kids do well and the teachers do well then we’re all winners.”

GCSC provided a workbook for the students which Wharton used to lead the classes along with the mentors. The first few weeks of the club focused on critical and creative thinking—challenging the students to identify problems in their lives and thinking like inventors and scientists to formulate solutions. The Engineering Design Process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve) was implemented to give the students the frame of mind of a designer.

The 3D printing aspect was introduced in the sixth week, as the students and mentors began working with Tinkercad, an online 3D printing software. Tinkercad was used to create their virtual designs, which were converted to tangible objects through the 3D printer. A spool of string goes into the tip of the printer, which essentially works like a hot glue gun to create the image layer by layer on a mirrored disk.

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“There was a lot of passion all around,” said Dehan. “We had a lot of volunteers and everybody got something out of it. The wonderful thing about United Way is having so many people be willing to give up their time to help out. It was so nice to see both the mentors and students so engaged. A couple of the girls took it real serious and worked on it at home. They were quite good! One of the girls was tuning the teacher in a little bit!”

The club at South Avondale was one of 13 different 3D Printer Clubs which took place as a GCSC pilot in the Tri-State area. Each of the participating schools was able to keep the 3D printer used for the clubs, thanks to a National Science Foundation Grant, the University of Cincinnati Research Institute and the GCSC. 

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“This goes beyond the 10-week club—the girls can continue to work on this because the school gets to keep the 3D printer,” said Dehan. “It can certainly go beyond the girls we worked with as well. Other students and future science classes to come can benefit from working with 3D printing. It’s a great way to exercise the brain.” 

The volunteer mentors from WoT and WINGs enjoyed the club and working with the students so much that they are already looking forward to participating in a similar project in the near future. Similarly, the students grasped the opportunity to learn new skills, and exhibited the willingness to be taught not only by their teacher, but also from mentors they can now look up to.