Students and their teacher Paul Clement pose for a photo with a 3D print project.

Across our schools, students learn to design and engineer using 3D printing.

The fifth grade class of Happy Valley Elementary teacher Shirley Prichard has been involved in Global Inventors in Training, a curriculum developed by Level Up Village (LUV).  LUV’s mission is to motivate students to love science and to experience global connections. Prichard’s classroom has focused on creating solar reading lights (small flashlights) designed and printed on the classroom 3D printer. A similar flashlight project is happening in a school in Sonrisa de Dios, Nicaragua with similarly aged students. Communication between Prichard’s students and the Nicaraguan students has taken place in the form of video letters recorded on an iPad during the course of this project.

The connection to LUV is due to the community engagement of Mary Keane and Jason Davies, co-founders of The Foundry Makerspace, a community workshop devoted to making things using cutting edge tools and technology. With more than 30 volunteer hours each, they have mentored the class with their knowledge of 3D modeling and printing. The Foundry also provided the supplies needed to finish the lights (circuitry, wire cutters/pliers.) Using the software Tinkercad, students created 3D digital designs, then transferred them to the 3D printer.

Prichard believes that the experiential knowledge that her students acquired was one of the biggest outcomes of this project. Going through the entire design cycle helped them learn the art of refinement, reflection and re-design.  Additionally, she sees the global connection as being a very powerful motivator.

“My students’ world views changed after the process of designing and printing an object,” she says. “The wonder and empowerment that each student had upon holding something that only weeks before had been an idea in their minds was amazing for me and their classmates to behold.  And with this empowerment came curiosity and questions like, “How else can we use this technology?” and “What are people around the world printing and why?”  Suddenly, kids were sharing videos and news clippings about how 3D printing was changing the scientific and medical community. Due to this process, students began to realize that they could solve problems uniquely using design.”

After the lightboxes, Prichard’s class will study the connection of geometry to engineering by building chess pieces, using measurements of lines, angles, shapes, surface area and volume.

Kulshan Middle School students, staff and volunteers are also using technology innovation to problem solve and engage in real world issues, and as an added bonus, to help a friend at school. Since acquiring a 3D printer at Kulshan, math teachers Tara Vaughan and Rob Hendricks developed an engineering course in Rhino, 3D Mechanical Design.

Vaughn, Hendricks and their engineering class worked with community volunteer Ivan Owen an open-source software developer and with Bellingham High senior MacLeod Hendricks to build a prosthetic for Kulshan eighth grade student Hamblet Ramirez who was born without a hand. Due to the prohibitive cost of prosthetics (they run between $40,000 to $60,000), especially for a growing boy, Vaughn sees this project as a great example of our schools impacting students both academically and personally. “It’s been a privilege for students and staff to be a part of a school that reaches out and goes beyond basic expectations,” she says, “and in this case with respect to a student’s physical/temporal needs. Constructing Hamblet’s prosthetic has been inspiring to students as they realize that there are so many rewarding and relevant applications of course content and technology.”

Hendricks reports that Kulshan students didn’t have any 3D printing experience before this school year, but thanks to funding by the district’s Career and Technical Education program, that has now changed.

“This project has the ability to impact so many students in learning about design and revision,” he says, “as well as getting involved in helping others in the community. It has been fun to watch their reactions to different design situations.”

The Bellingham High School Tech Lab and the Engineering Technology class taught by Paul Clement are also ‘engaged with the broader world’ by producing prosthetics for children. Through Clement’s connection with the nonprofit group e-Nable and the maker movement, his students have started producing child-size assistive devices on the lab’s 3D printer. Inspired by e-Nable co-founder Ivan Owen, Clement and his students signed on to help.

This winter, grade 10 students Sophia Carpenter and David Bishop produced custom print files for the 3D printer and spent hours in the lab on a Captain America-themed hand that went to the Marvel Universe LIVE event in Dallas, Texas. From there, it was given to four-year old Hudson See in San Antonio, the new owner of the hand.

The lab has produced four hands so far for children in Syria, Haiti and Texas, with another challenge currently underway for a girl in Redmond, Wash.

Clement says there are two real learnings for his students working on e-Nable projects. “We are engaging in macro-education,” he says, “using what we learn in all disciplines to find ways to create solutions to real and difficult problems through the use of technologies. And secondly, we are very invested in the outcome of our work because it is a tangible thing that fundamentally changes a life.”

To see the Captain America hand in action and more on our students, visit the Tech Lab’s Facebook page. The SchoolHouse Docs video documentary on this Helping Hands project can be viewed here.

For more about the e-Nable community, go to

Helping Hands from Lauren McClanahan on Vimeo.

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