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5 surprising lessons KIDS taught us about 3D printing

Airwolf 3D Blogger-in-Chief Jazmin Casing shares 5 surprising lessons learned from visiting the first group of students to build and fly Talon X1 3D-printed drone kits.

Earlier this month, we launched our first 3D-printing educational kit: The Talon X1 Drone. Designed specifically for use as part of a STEM education curriculum, Talon X1 is a complete kit that has everything one needs to build and fly a real drone. The goal of the 3D-printed drone kits is to get kids excited about STEM by providing a way to apply it to a fun, super trendy technology. To complete the project successfully, students must master the fundamentals of 3D printing and learn to apply science, math, design, and engineering principles in a hands-on setting.

We recently visited the first group of students to receive a batch of Talon X1 drone kits. Part of a summer enrichment program at Chaparral Middle School in Diamond Bar, CA, the 3D Printing and Drone Building class is taught by Kevin Papke, a teacher for over 20 years at MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School in Santa Ana, CA.

The purpose of our visit was to offer support to Mr. Papke and his students and get some good footage of the students flying their drones for the first time. What we did not expect was how much the experience would teach us about 3D printing.

So without further ado, here are the top five ways kids surprised us with their Airwolf 3D Talon X1 3d-printed drone kits:

1. Kids catch on…FAST!

Helping students with their 3D printed drone kits.One of the things that immediately struck us while spending time with Kevin Papke’s summer drone class was the kids’ level of sophistication when it came to building and troubleshooting their drones. Primarily made up of seventh graders, the 27 kids in Mr. Papke’s class all worked intently and enthusiastically, double-checking their instructional drone videos before checking and rechecking their circuit boards, motors, and propellers. After struggling to fix his team’s drone, Jackson Hayes, a bright-eyed 12-year-old 7th-grader, ran up to us to explain that he pinpointed the location of a short circuit in their drone. It was impressive to say the least.

And that high level of understanding did not stop there. Another young student approached me and asked me why Airwolf 3D printers are better than Makerbots. As I recited my usual laundry list of reasons why Airwolf makes the best 3D printers, he peppered me with questions about everything from the size of the print bed to the types of materials compatible with Airwolf 3D printers. He then asked me if I knew Erick Wolf and how much longer it would take Erick to design a follow-up to the AXIOM!

Tyler Caros, Airwolf 3D’s Creative Director who designed Talon X1 and a drone expert in his own right, summed it up perfectly. After spending some time helping students troubleshoot their drones, Tyler was able to step back and take a break. When I asked him what he thought of the class, he just grinned and said, “I’m blown away right now. These kids are so smart.”

2. Talon X1 3D-printed drone kits are great for team building

Students at Chaparral Middle School prepare to fly their 3D-printed drone kits for the first time.Another pleasant surprise we ran into was the way that Kevin Papke structured his 3D Printing and Drone Building class. Each drone kit was assigned to a team of four students who all got to work on building the drone, but were each responsible for a specific duty on their team. Each team consisted of a Pilot who was responsible for flying the drone, the Programmer/Builder who was the lead engineer on the drone and responsible for bringing instructional materials in case they needed to troubleshoot the drone while out in the field, and then a Director and Videographer who worked together to produce a video documenting their team’s project.

As the kids worked together, asking each other questions and collaborating on solving whatever problems arose with their drones, it was apparent that these kids were driven, passionate, and excited to be working towards a common goal: getting the drone in the air.

3. Shattering some stereotypes, while preserving others: Girls and 3D printing

STEM_3D_printing_drones_in_the_classroom-02With women still underrepresented in STEM fields, we always hope to see a fair number of girls at our 3D-printing events and classes. Out of a class of 27, there were only three girls in Mr. Papke’s summer class. Even more seemingly disappointing was the fact that, while almost all of the boys in class were running back and forth between work stations, excitedly chattering and tinkering with their drones, the three girls quietly sat working at their computers with their headphones on.

I immediately asked Mr. Papke why the girls weren’t working on drones.

“They’re already done with their drone,” Mr. Papke laughed. “You know the difference between girls and boys…the girls actually read and followed all the directions. Their drone is done and now they’re working on their video. They’re the only ones doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing!”

“…the girls actually read and followed all the directions. Their drone is done and now they’re working on their video. They’re the only ones doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing!” — Kevin Papke, Robotics Teacher

4. 3D printing kits must be designed to inspire teachers as much as students

At Airwolf 3D, we spend a lot of time talking about what we can do to get kids even more excited about 3D printing and STEM education. Something that we haven’t paid as much attention to, but is just as vitally important, is how 3D printing projects can inspire teachers, too.

Kevin Papke realized that the work he and his kids did in their drone class extends to other disciplines and there are some serious math and physics lessons to be learned from flying the drones. As the kids gathered up their drones and prepared to go home for the day, Mr. Papke mused aloud, “If we can measure the angle the drone is flying at, we’ll be able to calculate how high it flies, too. That’s another lesson for the kids.”

To see a teacher inspired to do even more with our 3D printed drone kits has motivated us to push even harder to create new educational 3D-printing kits that offer as much value as possible in the classroom.

5. Seeing what others create with our 3D printers just never gets old

The Talon X1 Drone used in schools as part of a 3D printing and STEM curriculum.We get to do a lot of cool stuff here at Airwolf 3D…projects designed to educate, delight, and engage kids of all ages. We are the primary sponsors and trainers for the ocMaker Challenge. We are an annual exhibitor at Inventor’s Week at the Discovery Cube OC. Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of amazing inventions created with our 3D printers.

As the kids from Mr. Papke’s class prepared to go home for the day, we overheard some truly heart-warming comments. As one student climbed into a car, we heard him yell, “We made a drone today!” Another student even told his mom, “I don’t wanna go home. We’re flying drones!”

If you read our blog, follow us on social media, or have ever attended an Airwolf 3D event or workshop, you understand that the Wolfpack is deeply passionate about spreading a “maker” culture of creativity, innovation, and tinkering. That’s why it really hits home for us when we get to see kids so excited about something they made with our 3D printers and kits. Visiting Mr. Papke’s class was no different. The excitement was contagious. And it just never gets old.

Stay tuned for an interview with Kevin Papke and a video of his students’ drones in action!


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