By John Davis


3D printers make it possible for students to take an idea, model it on the computer, and print a real-world, functional 3D object. These are not just little plastic figurines — there are free, online designs for working tools, model engines, drones, musical instruments (yes, there is a 3D printed ukulele!), and art. Basically, if you can "think" it — you can probably make it!

Here’s how it works: 3D printers take a spool of plastic wire, called filament, and heat it to 190-240 degrees Celsius. The machine then squeezes out the plastic through a nozzle onto a build surface, one layer on top of another, until a 3D object is formed. As much as that sounds like something out of Star-Trek, anyone can learn to use a 3D printer.

And that's just the beginning! Students at Roanoke Minnick Vocational School will be using the 3D printer to start their own 3D Printing Enterprise. The goal is to have students print 3D objects for other schools and enCircle offices. Need a new business card holder, desk organizer, or phone stand? Soon staff can place an order and have your object printed and mailed to you! Students will decide on a company name, logo and be responsible for all parts of the business — an opportunity for the students to learn about entrepreneurship, business management, responsibility, job skills, and much more. Once students learn to make their own 3D models, they will only be limited by their own imaginations.

Next year, Roanoke and Wytheville Minnick Schools will be offering an exploratory class based on the Learn by Layers curriculum to help students learn career skills, problem-solving skills, creativity, and technology. We can’t wait to see where the creativity of students at our Minnick Schools takes them!

A close up of a 3D printer printing an orange boat

John Davis is the Education Technology Coordinator at enCircle's Minnick Schools. Learn more about Minnick Schools here.