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The best way to learn 3D printer technology is to build one.
That's the idea behind 3D Printer Summer Workshops conducted in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Allentown for students in the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School STEM program. This is the third summer for the week-long 3D printer build workshops.
Joel Cilli runs the online school's STEM program and leads the workshops. He has created and posted a series of how-to videos to guide not only workshop participants, but anyone who undertakes to build Printrbot Play 3D printers from a kit.
"I made all the assembly videos at home over the summer and shared them via youtube," Cilli said. "My instructions are now linked on the manufacturer's website so that anyone in the world can follow along with the same build instructions we use in the workshop.
"I video recorded how to do the steps because still pictures just aren't clear enough," he said. During the workshops, "The videos play at the front of the room and the students follow the steps. We walk around to each person's desk to check their work and offer assistance."
Cilli said the Printrbot Play is an all-metal-body 3D printer that was released this summer.
"It's the first good entry-level 3D printer kit I've been able to get my hands on that has an all-metal frame. The metal body makes the unit more reliable, particularly during assembly. It's still difficult to build, but it's the best designed 3D printer we've found for these workshops," he said.
Workshop students pay a discounted equipment fee of $200 for the kit and take it home with them – it's theirs.
Workshops were held at PA Cyber regional workshops in Allentown, Harrisburg and Wexford, near Pittsburgh. Staffer Karen Cummings assisted with the Harrisburg and Allentown workshops.
Cilli said students in the STEM program take advanced classes and participate in extracurricular activities such as a Raspberry Pi computer workshop and the Cyber Patriot computer security competition. Participation earns points toward the honor distinction of receiving a STEM certificate at graduation.
"The 3D printer workshop is exclusive to students pursuing the STEM graduation certificate, so you have to join the larger STEM program to be invited," Cilli said. "The program exposes students to hands-on STEM opportunities where they meet peers from around the state with an interest in science and engineering."
One reason for creating and posting the how-to videos was to allow parents and grandparents to help a child or grandchild build a printer.
"The 'cause' for me came from grandparents I met at science events," Cilli said. "I would hear a grandfather say he wanted to do 3D printing with his grandson, but didn't know where to start.
"When I was young, my dad and grandfather helped me make Pinewood Derby cars for Boy Scouts and do other projects in the wood shop at my grandparents' house. Those experiences are among my strongest childhood memories. I like to think that kids are out there watching my YouTube videos with someone who is a mentor to them, and they're going to build their first 3D printer together."
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland, Beaver County. It maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.