Burbank High 3D Printer Puts 21st Century Tech In Student Hands

Burbank High School art students (from left to right), eleventh-grader Lizbeth Najera, tenth-grader Storm Lamoureaux and twelvth-grader Mark Gonzalez, show some of the pieces created with the school's 3D printer. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

Burbank High School’s arts and digital media teacher James Bentley speaks with clarity and enthusiasm as he describes the technology his classes access during the school day. One of the more frequently used of the 21st Century Classroom buzzwords right now is ‘3D printer,’ and Bentley talks about how the tech is being used in his high school classroom.

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As Bentley lays out all the elements of a miniature turbine engine, built in his classroom’s 3D printer using a plastic filament material source – something like the plastic cord used in a household WeedWhacker, he explains.

“The turbine we create parts for is not actually functioning, but when we assemble all the parts and hook it up to a power drill, we can demonstrate how a turbine engine works,” Bentley says, meaning that the plastic parts won’t hold up under regular and demanding use, but they can show how each part of a turbine engine works together.

“Three-dimensional printers are great for building prototypes but not for manufacturing parts right now,” he adds.

Burbank High School’s MakerBot Replicator Z18 was purchased with a grant a team of BHS students won in the 2014 Burbank Airport Authority competition and a grant from the Burbank Arts For All Foundation.

Bentley also shows off a bulldog replica built by the 3D printer. He had created the figurine for the school’s principal Michael Bertram, so he could physically see and touch an object the printer made.

 (Photo By Lisa Paredes)
(Photo By Lisa Paredes)

“We often forget it is creative ideas that are the foundation of innovation,” comments Bentley. “You have to draw up the idea, the creative thinker and the artist, then the engineers and the mathematicians take the idea and make it work.”

“It is the artist who makes products acceptable – the people who make it beautiful, who design objects,” he adds, emphasizing the STEAM concept, the importance of Arts to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields that are expected to drive world economies and a primary focus in education right now.

“Everything is designed by creative people in U.S., things are designed right here,” Bentley continues. “We need the people to make them here, too.”

Parts of a miniature turbine engine printed by Burbank High School's 3D printer.  (Photo By Lisa Paredes)
Parts of a miniature turbine engine printed by Burbank High School’s 3D printer. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

Bentley mentions the example of entrepreneur Elon Musk – his Tesla car, an electric car that can compete with performance and technology of a BMW, and his SpaceX company’s Dragon spacecraft.

“I want the kids to buy into his vision,” says Bentley.

The MakerBot Replicator Z18 follows a model created through a 3D modeling computer program or via a scanner. The printer uses plastic cord pushed through an extruder, like a hot glue gun, to rapidly build a prototype according to the model. Some printer builds can takes hours, one layer at a time, depending on the size of the object.

The built objects can be sanded, painted and put together with other printed items or other materials to build a complex creation, or stand alone as an individual piece.

Burbank Unified School District plans to purchase additional 3D printers for the high schools as part of their 21st Century Classroom plan and in conjunction with a recent California state grant to develop career pathways for public school students via the Verdugo Creative Technology Consortium.

Both John Burroughs and Burbank High Schools have plans to add additional digital media and manufacturing courses in the very near future.