Youngsters embrace technology that combines art, software in 3D printing
Joey Bennett likes computers, much like any typical 13-year-old, but he does more than play games.
He designs three-dimensional models — images of food, plants, space objects, toys and animals — that can be manufactured by laying down layers of material using 3D printers.
His models are so popular that CGTrader , an online 3D model marketplace, ranks him seventh among more than 100,000 users.
“I’ve made roughly 300 items. … I’ve done a lot of different things,” said Joey, of Columbiana County, Ohio.
A 3D model is made using software that manipulates width, depth and height. Youngsters are embracing the technology, education experts said.
Most technology education classes in the region teach 3D modeling and printing, replacing traditional shop class in which students made birdhouses, model airplanes or paperweights, experts said.
Core curriculum classes, such as history, math and language arts, have been slower to incorporate 3D processes, but educators are trying to change that, said Kevin Conner, curriculum and instructional technology coordinator at Allegheny Intermediate Unit. In a history class, for example, a teacher might have students design 3D models of historic landmarks or artifacts from the Civil War, he said.
‘Our world is different’
Elizabeth Forward School District teaches 3D modeling and 3D printing at every school level, Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin said.
Last year, it introduced 3D processes to kindergarteners, who designed cookie cutters using a free iPad app and printed them on a 3D printer.
At the middle school’s Dream Factory, which combines art, technology education and computer science lessons, students use software to design iPad holders, candlestick holders, chess pieces and other items, which they manufacture on eight printers, Keruskin said. In robotics classes, teachers removed gears from robots, requiring students to design and print 3D replacements, he said.
A $20,000 grant from the Grable and Benedum foundations and the AIU made 2-year-old Dream Factory possible. The organizations provided a second $20,000 grant to start a high school Fab Lab, in which students digitally fabricate objects, in the summer, he said.
“Schools need to be different because our world is different. Technology has changed our world,” Keruskin said.
The Makeshop at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has become a model nationwide for schools and museums wanting to engage children in hands-on learning, said Kevin Goodwin, a Makeshop specialist at the North Side museum.
“We kind of value the idea that playing with something is the way to learn about it,” he said.
Amusing and profitable
For Joey, designing is fun and rewarding.
Using Blender, a software program that he taught himself, he has made a couple hundred dollars in 11 months from designs sold on CGTrader, said his father, Robert Bennett, a graphic designer. Joey is saving for a new computer, and recently won a 3D printer in a CGTrader contest for his design of a 6-inch-high grizzly bear.
“I’ve already started working on Alpha 3d, which is what I’m calling my business. I want to take it all the way to the top,” said Joey, whose mother homeschools him.
He’s active in CGTrader online forums, said Michael Becce, a spokesman for the Lithuania-based company. Forum users can’t see how old he is, Becce said. “They’re just talking to him like he’s just another professional.”
Many people who buy designs on CGTrader are video game developers or employees of architectural firms or advertising companies who find they can cut costs by downloading images and printing 3D models rather than hiring someone to make products.
They can ask CGTrader designers to modify color, size and shape to fit their needs, Becce said.
“It’s really an open playing field for a lot of people,” he said.
Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.