The high-pitched whirring of a 3D printer fills a classroom. Its extruding head is like a hot glue gun melting a strand of fuchsia plastic. The plastic is laid down layer by layer in a preprogrammed design that will finish within the hour.
The seventh and eighth graders in the room chatter above the noise. A teacher barks, and the kids quiet down.
The 3D printer belongs to Ben Stinnett, a systems design junior in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. Stinnett is part of the recent push to inspire young students to pursue science and engineering careers, but he is approaching the problem from an unusual angle.
“Art is the only way to communicate science and engineering,” Stinnett says.
Stinnett hopes to bridge the gap between art and science by using his 3D printer to inspire kids to find their passion within the technical fields, he says.
Stinnett is not alone in his effort to inspire young students to take an interest in technical careers.
The push to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Arizona schools began in 2010, with politicians, industry leaders and educators rallying for change.
Science Foundation Arizona, a non-profit dedicated to improving the state economy by strengthening its science and engineering sectors, started the STEM Network to support STEM programs in 10 to 15 state school districts in 2012. At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, the more rigorous common core math standards were implemented in Arizona schools.
Despite the push, Stinnett believes STEM education often misses its mark because it is missing out on a key letter, he says.
STEAM is more important than STEM. The ‘A’ stands for art.
“You get a lot of kids who want to be painters, singers or actors,” he says. “But writing papers is an art. Designing things is an art. I want to show them there is an opportunity to find art in science and engineering.”
Stinnett works in a laboratory at ASU designing and building robots, but for the past three years his passion has been science outreach.
“The problem is a lot of people will go out and they’ll talk. You get lectures, and it’s boring,” Stinnett says. “No one wants to be a scientist or engineer when all you do is talk to them about what you do.”
With his 3D printer, Stinnett is able to bring art into the classroom and give kids a tangible message to hold onto, he says.
Stinnett’s goal is to use his 3D printer to give 1, 000 students a hands-on and visual lesson in robotics by the end of the year, he says.
“All I used to give them was a hands-on experience in the classroom, but that’s where it ended,” Stinnett says. “When my time was up, I left.”
When asked, the students know exactly what the machine in front of them is doing. It hums to a stop and Stinnett pries off a 6-inch model of a space shuttle.
“Now I can give them something of their own to take home and put on a bookshelf. I hope they’ll look at it and be reminded of that experience and the power of STEAM.”
When given the cue, the students rush to the front of the room to claim their own miniature bright pink, blue, green and yellow space shuttles.
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