Jun 24, 2016 | By Alec

Credit: Amy Hurst of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Shawn Grimes from the Digital Harbor Foundation

President Obama recently declared that the week from June 17 to the 23rd was to be the National Week of Making, and what better way to celebrate that initiative than to fund innovative research projects aimed at children? That’s what the National Science Foundation (NSF) must’ve been thinking, as they set up a $1.5 million ‘early-concept grant’ for five youth-oriented making projects. Among them is project that aims to open a 3D printing center in Baltimore, intended to provide inner city children with 3D printing opportunities and researchers with a greater understanding of how access to making affects a child’s development.

Credit: Elizabeth Bonawitz, Rutgers University Newark

Like the other four projects that received NSF funding, this new center is completely aimed at making and digital design. Each of the projects have been awarded $300,000 for a two year period, though all take different approaches to contribute to the future of making. Among others, researchers at Rutgers University Newark have received funds to study how educational making affects cognitive development, while University of Pennsylvania researchers aim to encourage high school students to broaden their understanding of synthetic biology in a bioMAKERlab.

As Rutgers' Elizabeth Bonawitz argued, all projects seek to contribute to a greater understanding of how positive making environments encourage curiosity and sensible career choices. “A core tenet of the maker movement is that experiences involving active exploration of ideas ... elicit enjoyment and foster lasting learning,” she said. That explorative nature is therefore also closely studied in all of the projects. One even aims “to measure psychophysiological indications of heightened engagement” of children using wearables and cameras.

Credit: Victor Lee, Utah State University

But of all the projects that received funding, this new 3D printing center in Baltimore is certainly the most direct in its attempt to engage children. Specifically, it’s aimed at those inner city youths who are not participating in after-school programs (where they might learn making skills) for a number of reasons, from financial pressures to broken home situations. This limits their development and exposure to hands-on learning, and Amy Hurst of the University of Maryland and Shawn Grimes from the Digital Harbor Foundation therefore set up this project.

As the researchers explained in their grant abstract, it’s often very difficult to bring making into student curriculums in such areas. To fight this, they will therefore set up this 3D printing center at the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) Tech Center in Baltimore. “The result of the project will be a new model to keep underserved youth on a pathway towards a STEM career,” they argue.

Credit: Orkan Telhan, University of Pennsylvania Photographer: Peter Murray

But as they revealed, this new center is certainly about more than just providing access to 3D printing. The center is also a living laboratory, they say, where they will study the impact of making on inner city youth. Specifically, their research will focus on how student experiences will affect their likelihood to pursue STEM careers. “Making reinforces creativity, problem solving and ownership of one's own learning,” Hurst said. “All of these skills are not only valuable in the existing job opportunities -- they provide the agility for employees to adapt and respond to new career paths that don't even exist currently,” added Grimes.

Specifically, they will be studying the ways in which youths deepen their engagement in making, how this impacts their interests and thinking, and how this affects the local communities. “What are the generalizable recommendations for designing and teaching digital fabrication software to individuals with diverse skills?” they wonder. “We will track youth's engagement in the print shop and measure how their attitudes towards technical employment, STEM fields, and Making change through the research.”

For this groundbreaking project, all of the necessary software, training tools, 3D printers and supporting technology will be made available in the 3D printing center. The test, which could pave the way for more educational 3D printing initiatives, is expected to run until July 31, 2018.



Posted in 3D Printing Service



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