3D printer blends art, math, technology at Mercy

Mercy Academy seniors, from left, Kaitlyn Stamper, Cayla Metzmeier and Emylie Thomas, held the kitchen cabinets they created using a 3D printer in their digital art class recently. The school aims to help prepare its students for “the real world” by exposing them to “innovative technology,” according to principal Amy Elstone. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Mercy Academy seniors, from left, Kaitlyn Stamper, Cayla Metzmeier and Emylie Thomas, held the kitchen cabinets they created using a 3D printer in their digital art class recently. The school aims to help prepare its students for “the real world” by exposing them to “innovative technology,” according to principal Amy Elstone. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Mercy Academy’s students are merging their studies in art, math and technology to accomplish some real-world tasks this year with the help of a 3D printer.

If you haven’t seen one of these printers in action, the idea may sound a bit fantastical — a machine that “prints” a three-dimensional object.

Mercy Academy teacher Stephen Hammer created a digitial art class at the school that includes the use of a 3D printer in its curriculum. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Mercy Academy teacher Stephen Hammer created a digitial art class at the school that includes the use of a 3D printer in its curriculum. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

In reality, though, the idea is straight forward: The device lays successive layers of heated plastic threads, one upon the next, to gradually build an object from a digital model.

Students in Mercy’s new digital art class are building pieces of doll-house size furniture to fit in models of a two-story loft. Their teacher, Stephen Hammer, created blueprints for the loft and assigned his students the task of finishing the home — from laying out the bathroom and kitchen areas to designing each piece of furniture.

“It’s given them a very real-world knowledge of design concept,” said Hammer, who created the new class starring the MakerBot 3D printer.

“It allows us to incorporate a lot of areas of curriculum. They get to be creative for the arts and there’s a huge math component. Later in the year they’re going to design race cars and they’ll race them in the gym.”

Hammer said the printer currently operates 24 hours a day as it builds the students’ kitchen cabinets, couches and other furnishings.

The cost of the machine, the spools of plastic from which the objects are created and a technical support service totalled about $3,600. The expense that was well worth it, according to Mercy’s principal Amy Elstone.

“We wanted to be ahead of the game in technology and it’s hard to do that,” she said during a recent interview in her office. “We want young women to be a part of innovative technology as much as possible.

“Everything we do is about real-world learning,” she added.

That practical approach to education is central to Mercy’s latest advertising campaign that made national news in mid November. The campaign tells young women, “You are not a princess” and “Life’s not a Fairytale.” The adds conclude, “Prepare for real life.”

“We want young women to believe they can be more than a princess,” Elstone said. “We want them to be able to solve real-world problems and think critically and collaborate with others. That’s real life.”

She said Hammer’s art and design class is a great example of that approach to education.

“Mr. Hammer is an amazing art teacher who is always thinking forward,” Elstone said.

The school piloted Hammer’s digital art class last year and offered it this year to three classes, adding the printer this semester.

Students, who work together in small groups, use three-dimensional architecture software to create their designs. And a big part of that, they say, is math.

“There is a lot of math,” said Mercy senior Cayla Metzmeier. “You have to learn to use ratios.”

She and the other students in her group learned how critical it is to calculate proportions correctly when their refrigerator came out of the printer and was dwarfed by their cabinets. They had to recalculate the refrigerator to the correct scale and print it again.

Sierra Altenstadter, a senior who plans to study graphic design in college, said she’s an artist at heart, but realizes she needs to hone her technical skills, too. This class, she said, is helping her do that.

“I do not like math,” she added. “But this is helping me in my math class.”

Hammer said the students’ creations are exciting to see.

“I like to give them problems (in this case, to furnish a loft) and not have any idea, myself, what a solution might be,” Hammer said. “There’s not really a right or wrong, as long as they take the math and creative concepts and work in their particular scale. We’re teaching them how to creatively solve problems.”

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