Holly Grove Elementary - 3D Printing and LearningHolly Grove Elementary School

When you hear the excitement of elementary-aged students entering a teacher’s classroom to check on their projects from the week before, you know that teacher is doing something right. At Holly Grove Elementary School in Holly Springs, North Carolina, these children are coming to check on their 3D prints, created on the VariQuest Trifecta™ 800 3D printer, making technology teacher Jennifer Starkey’s the most popular room in the school!

Ms. Starkey first saw the Trifecta at the North Carolina Technology in Education Society conference (NCTIES) in 2017, and after a follow-up demonstration with her VariQuest Education Consultant, she fell in love. With over 1100 students in grades K-5, including some Pre-K and special education students, she needed an easy-to-use solution to reach every learner, and one that wouldn’t require a lot of time resolving technical issues. In the summer of 2017, thanks to her school’s PTA funding, they were able to purchase the Trifecta™ 800 3D printer with STEM:IT curriculum, and it has been running non-stop in her classroom ever since.

Elementary Students Learning the Engineering Design Cycle Through 3D Printing

Currently Ms. Starkey has grades 2, 4, & 5 fully immersed in hands-on learning, working closely with them as they Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve and Share (The Engineering Design Cycle) with great enthusiasm.

One of the first projects she engaged her 200+ 2nd graders in, started with a collaboration between herself and Holly Grove’s music teacher, where students were given the task of creating a set of music note manipulatives. She started by creating a short instructional video, which her students watched before they began working. She then observed as her students brought shapes onto the work plane and adjusted them back and forth until they were just right. The students watched with amazement as their music notes came to life on the 3D printer, working its magic. From there she gave each of them staff paper and the young artists produced their own musical compositions.

3d printing music notes

As for her 4th and 5th grade students, they too are learning 3D design and have been tasked with customizing their own 3D print from start to finish. “I like making [students] go beyond what they think they can’t go beyond”, she says. “They are building on something all the time.” In addition, every child grades 2-5, has the opportunity to create their own design, and print from the Trifecta. Students have created everything from turkeys to unicorns to Nintendo® characters. Recently, a 2nd grade student designed and created the below print of a desktop computer, complete with a monitor, keyboard and mouse!

3d printed desktop computer model

One of her students – Eli – had a difficult time deciding what to make for his free choice print, but decided to go with a hot air balloon, inspired by local hot air balloon festival each year. “He wanted to make a print that would have a really special meaning to him,” Ms. Starkey explained. “He came into my room almost every day for a week asking if it had printed and when it finally did, unfortunately, it was a 3D print ‘fail’.” But not all was lost. Eli and Ms. Starkey talked about it, discovered what went wrong and together made necessary adjustments for success on the next attempt! And he didn’t toss the first attempt – he turned the broken balloon into Pac-Man and painted it. (Tip: when using clear filament, consider painting the 3D print with acrylic paint for best results. See Bailey’s creation below!)

3d printed student projects

A project she is planning for her 4th graders will involve the Trifecta™ 800 3D printer, and their pet turtle on campus, Stumpy. Stumpy only has 3 legs, so the students will be tasked with designing a prosthesis for the friendly reptile. Jennifer plans to arrange the students into small groups, have them meet Stumpy, measure how far his shell is off the ground, sketch their concept out on paper, then follow the design cycle process to print their creation. The winner is sure to make Stumpy a much happier turtle!

Within the next few months, Ms. Starkey hopes to bring 3D printing into every classroom’s instruction, engaging more Holly Grove students & teachers with the technology.

  • As 1st grade students move into their unit about shapes, students will be asked to create their own animals and creatures using circles, squares, etc. Then they will bring them to life on the 3D printer.
  • Kindergarten classes plan to design bubble wands to print in 3D just in time for bubble-blowing season!

When asked why incorporating STEM into the classroom is important, Ms. Starkey responded, “It’s learning life skills. I never use the word STEM; it’s just life.”

What the Students Have to Say

If you’re not completely convinced that 3D technology engages all learners with whole brain project-based learning experiences and prepares students for whatever their future may hold, read what Ms. Starkey’s students have to say when asked, “Why is it important to be able to 3D print?

  • “Working with 3D printing and Tinkercad is important because it gives kids ideas and makes their brain more creative.” Tyler, 4th Grade
  • “3D printing is important because it helps you with engineering and jobs and stuff like that.” Vincent, 4th Grade
  • “3D printing is a great skill because in the future if you lose the key to your car you can just print a new one.” Kelie, 5th Grade
  • “It is important to know how to 3D print so when I grow up I can print something and paint it and sell it and become famous.” Juliana, 1st grade
  • “You can keep printing until you get it right.” Justin, 1st grade
  • “We need 3D printers because it makes kids happy.” Caleb, Kindergarten
  • “3D printers are great because you can print things and take them home and hang them on your Christmas tree.” Zeyad, Kindergarten

And her all-time favorite…

  • “The top of the printer smells like syrup!” Christopher, 2nd grade

Finally, in addition to the daily connections Ms. Starkey is making with her students, the VariQuest Trifecta™ 800 3D printer has also helped her create better relationships with parents. “The kids are so excited that they want me to share pictures I take with their parents, so I do a lot of texting and even some phone calls with POSITIVE stories. I had a parent who told me they were wary when they got my message because in the past when they heard from the school it was because something was wrong, but they were so happy to hear about the great things their child was doing!”

Student photos on wall

Thank you, Jennifer Starkey, for sharing your story, and to Holly Grove Elementary School for your valued partnership! Go Hedgehogs!

3d printed hedgehog

For more information on how the VariQuest Visual and Kinesthetic Learning Tools could benefit a STEM program in your school, request a personalized meeting with one of our expert Education Consultants today!

  • Learn the Engineering Design Cycle by Asking, Imagining, Planning, Creating, Improving and Sharing Projects
  • Experience Coding and Design to 3D Print Classroom Concepts for Hands-On Learning
  • Stimulate Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving in Every Learner, Regardless of Academic Skill Level

Next Steps

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