image-pesc 3D printer
Students at Pescadero Elementary School will benefit from a new 3-D printer that came to the school with the help of an educational grant. Photo courtesy Ellie Schoelen

Students in Ellie Schoelen’s class at Pescadero Elementary School are getting special, high-tech opportunities this fall.

Schoelen, entering her sixth year of teaching fifth grade, has been using a FlashForge 3-D printer, which sells for $800 or so on Amazon. Schoelen was given the printer through MPACT: Math and Computational Thinking Through 3-D Making — a project from SRI International’s math-based educational research team and funded by an Education Innovation and Research grant from the U.S. Department of Education. After receiving $4 million in funding last year, MPACT curriculum emphasizes grades five through seven, particularly young students learning math, spatial reasoning, and computational thinking, through the process of 3-D design and printing. 

As well as incorporating math and science into the classroom, MPACT provides a unique opportunity for students in rural communities to learn some advanced technology they might not have access to otherwise. Jennifer Knudsen, senior principal researcher at SRI and director of MPACT, said Schoelen is one of their first teachers in California to take full advantage of MPACT programs. 

“The most important part is that she’s using curriculum that we designed,” Knudsen said. “So, while the kids are using the 3-D printer, they can learn math, spatial reasoning and computational thinking.”

When Schoelen began using the curriculum at the end of last school year, members of MPACT taught her the intricacies of the printer and demonstrated how to use it for her summer school classes. The nonprofit provided everything, from the modules to the printing material itself. 

After the first week of school, each of her 18 students had made a nameplate, and each will create a seven-piece, 3-by-3-inch cube puzzle next. Because the online program involves math, conversions and design thinking, Schoelen believes her students can learn in a creative and engaging way. 

“Anything they get excited about and want to do, I’m all about,” Schoelen said. “Getting math, science, design or engineering into something is my favorite.”

The printer will stay in Schoelen’s classroom permanently. Students use the website TickerCad along with the MPACT modules. For the final project, Schoelen’s class will design and print toys for kindergarten book buddies.

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