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Catonsville High teacher acquires school's first 3D printer

Technology teacher Dan Larsen holds the school's new 3D printer that will be available for students in his class at Catonsville High School.
Technology teacher Dan Larsen holds the school's new 3D printer that will be available for students in his class at Catonsville High School. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

For students in Dan Larsen's technology class at Catonsville High School, designing parts and objects with a computer aided design (CAD) program will be more of a hands-on learning experience this year

Larsen, 36, a technology education teacher in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program at the school, acquired the school's first three-dimensional printer, expected to be up and running this week.

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"They're going to see firsthand what they can create," Larsen said enthusiastically, standing next to the printer in his classroom after school. "When they design something, they can take it home and say, 'I did this.'"

Students will use a free CAD program such as Google SketchUp to build the part and MatterControl, a free 3D printing interface program, to organize and track the objects during the printing process.

Students in the class have been using the CAD program, but have been unable to see the objects they have been building until now.

Soon, the printer will be producing objects made of PLA filament, a type of thermoplastic that will be melted by the printer nozzle and deposited in layers to build the object, Larsen said.

Larsen said students will have the freedom to build what they wish, while learning the design principles used to engineer the objects. The equipment will allow them to print objects such as a cell phone case, key chain or replacement part for something that is broken, Larsen said.

On a larger scale, three-dimensional printing is known as additive manufacturing, and has become a popular way to build parts and objects for a variety of industries including: medical, aerospace, automotive, defense and metals manufacturing, according to Manufacturing.gov.

The new technology has numerous benefits. It produces less material waste, offers the ability to produce more customized parts, needs shorter lead times and lower life-cycle energy use.

Larsen was able to raise nearly $600 to purchase the printer by posting the project on DonorsChoose.org, a charity website that allows teachers to raise funding for projects in public schools. Anyone can donate to a projects and once a project reaches its funding goal, the materials are sent to the school, according to the organization's website.

The project reached its goal Aug. 25, the first day of school.

"Dan did a great job being proactive to raise funding for the 3D printer," said Catonsville High principal Bill Heiser. "His project fits in nicely with the goals of the STEM program."

At Catonsville, students are required to take one technology class to graduate. Larsen's class fulfills that requirement.

But soon the school will be offering a more comprehensive engineering program, along with other public schools across Baltimore County.

Heiser explained that the school will be launching a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Engineering program, offered by a nonprofit organization that is one of the nation's leading providers of STEM education, according to its website.

The new program will be offered as part of the school's longterm goal of establishing engineering partnerships with University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and other nationally recognized universities, according to a letter sent to parents Aug. 1.

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"The program is recommended by the Maryland Department of Education and people at UMBC," said Richard Weisenhoff, executive director of the department of academics at Baltimore County Public Schools. "It is an expensive program to implement and we're looking at it as an option for magnet schools."

It will better prepare students with an interest in engineering for a career in the field, Weisenhoff said.

For students without an interest in the engineering career field, the program teaches skills of collaboration, communication and critical thinking, Weisenhoff said.

Larsen said he plans to acquire additional printers for the class, because 3D printing can take from five minutes to 24 hours, depending on the object.

With one printer, he expects between five and 10 students will be able to print in a class period, he said.

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