Benson Middle School Getting 3-D Printer

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Middle school art class has come a long way in the 21st Century. It has moved past ashtrays made of clay and finger turkeys at Thanksgiving.

It has blossomed into a high-tech, student leadership-oriented environment creating more than just art projects and thanks to General Electric, Benson Middle School is stepping up its game a little further.

The multi-million dollar corporation has awarded a new 3D printer to the Johnston County school after art teacher Magen Pike successfully wrote a grant. A grant that helped BMS beat out schools from around the world in getting one of the approximately 400 grants made available each year.

The program is called the GE Additive Education Program and is designed to help foster the imagination and inventive skills of students.

“GE really wants to see how children can be inventors,” Ms. Pike said. “They want them to think about how they can invent something or really add to something.”

Earning the grant was a task unto itself, according to Ms. Pike. In order to secure the printer, she had to show how the school would use the printer, what they hoped to create and then offer an example of some of the things they would create.

Her idea for earning the grant involved creating a bottle vase for hydroponic plants, creating the bottle the plant would sit in and have room for the root system to grow. Her idea was also an innovation to connect the art and agriculture programs through technology.

“I wanted to take a 2-liter bottle and create a plastic piece that would screw onto the bottle,” she said. “To make a way for the root systems to grow into the bottle. That was my big idea and I think that’s what grabbed their attention.”

Remember, a 3D printer such as the one the school is getting, can take an image then print it in plastic, fully usable.

“You had to go through this process of creating an image for a printer,” she explained. “Then you had to download an image from their gallery as if you were going to print it, like modeling what you were going to do. They wanted to make sure you could do it.”

As a part of the program, GE will provide staff development as well as several software components and “filament” or stock to use in the printer to create the items the students design.

“They’re going to have four programs we can use and we can contact them for help,” she said. “Which is great.”

Intern Assistant Principal Lamantha Anthony-Perry said while it’s still not set in stone, the printer will likely be integrated into the classroom in more than just one discipline. One such area is the ever-expanding Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture and Math (STEAM) program.

“We’re hoping that we have a number of different classes that have the opportunity to use it,” Ms. Anthony-Perry said. “But I think it would be best in a separate STEAM class where we’re teaching the skills associated with producing a product with the 3D printer.”

When the school gets the printer in August, Benson Middle School will join a small group of educational facilities with such a printer.

Ms. Anthony-Perry, who was previously at Corinth Holders High School where a 3D printer is part of the curriculum, said it brings an entirely new dimension to the STEAM and other programs using the technology — one that many schools simply cannot afford in the tight budgets of the modern era of education.

“This is huge,” she said. “We have just a handful of schools that have one. So, the price of it makes it a wish list item for a school to buy and Ms. Pike getting the printer is amazing.”

She said the printer is one more option students will have in exploring their futures and using what they learn in school to start on the pathway to a career.

“It exposes our kids to skills they can use moving into their careers,” she said. “I think it gives our STEAM program legs. We realize our students are going into the workforce needing some of the skills as they relate to graphic arts and to incorporate software, we want to make sure our kids get an early start. And it makes our kids just a little more marketable in the job market when we start our students early on learning technology.”

Both educators want to see as many students as possible involved after the printer is up and functioning. They hope to be able to offer the technology to every grade and every student through various classroom activities.

“This program is available to all the teachers in the school,” Ms. Pike said. “The training is available to every single teacher. It won’t be limited and there are lesson plans for every single teacher here.”

Ms. Anthony-Perry hopes to see the printer used as a Product Based Learning (PBL) tool which would allow as many students as possible the chance to experience the printer and its uses.

“I’m hoping to see it roll out as a PBL,” she said. “So we do have the opportunity to rotate the use among all classes. It is applicable to almost every subject we teach here. And our kids are hungry for that kind of application and extension.”

When it does arrive, just where the printer will go is another thing. Ms. Pike, of course, wants to see it in the art classroom, but the administration has a more diversified idea.

“Because we’re going into a slightly different model with restarting STEAM, those are one of the things we’ll work out when it comes to the school,” Ms. Anthony-Perry said. “We’re excited about it.”

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