East Franklin Elementary holds first ever STEM event


Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

STEM is known to many as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but to Jennifer Love, coordinator, it means empowering students to think critically. Critical thinking is key in many industries and issues facing the community, where real solutions to problem solve is essential to thrive and adapt to a continually changing world.

At East Franklin Elementary School STEM night, Brandon McMahan, Science Teacher at Mountain View Intermediate School (MVI) was on hand to demonstrate how a 3D Printer works. He displayed two printers each replicating different insects. Students were amazed at how this device was able to create a duplicate of the insect to a “T.”  By using a simple computer program, instructions were sent to each printer to make an exact copy the original product. These replications are not trivial. Each printing is designed to teach about designing, problem solving and meaningful learning. The MVI 3D club teaches students design skills and learn basic care and maintenance of the 3D printer. 

A recent lesson plan created by McMahan incorporated the challenge of creating a musical instrument that was capable of making three distinct pitches.  Students chose to design and 3D print an Ocarina, an ancient musical instrument that sounds like a piccolo. During an English/Language Arts lesson students designed and printed a sword to include in a box of “artifacts” from the novel “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.” Students used a program called “Tinkercard” a free online collection of software tools, for creating 3D digital designs. In Social Studies students participated in Digital Learning Day with a 3D printing component. The N.C. Museum of Art Mummies and Makerspaces event allowed a guided virtual tour and close examination of Egyptian artifacts. A 3D scan of an actual artifact was 3D printed right in the classroom. 

Math is also a component of 3D printing. In a recent project, math and social studies were combined and experiential learning from a 6th grade Washington D.C. trip was utilized. Students had some issues with the first print being too small so they had to increase the scale of their project in order to print the object. Finally a 1.3 cm man was printed for a scale model of a monument in Washington D.C. 

Why use a 3D printer in the classroom? 

3D printing creates a direct connection between a problem and a solution. It provides a tangible framework for trial and error. It can demystify “engineering.” It is flexible and affordable.

McMahan pointed out that these printers are used in business in various ways. He stated that the printer can replicate its own parts, if any should wear out. Many industries are using these 3D printers to replicate parts that they need in business. The medical community uses these devices to create living tissues for transplants, such as a part of an ear, for plastic surgery patients. Other uses for 3D printing include engineering, design, software development, additive manufacturing, material science, medicine, architecture, anthropology, automotive industry and entrepreneurship.

Macon County Schools own 12 of these 3D printers. MVI houses two of them, Franklin High School has four, Macon Middle School owns two, Union Academy has one, as does Macon Early College, and Nantahala and Highlands Schools each have one.

This particular brand of printer was chosen because Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University also use this brand. That way, students who graduate and attend these colleges will already have been exposed to its use. 

Parents can also get involved in student’s projects by encouraging them to “tinker.” There are many free 3D design applications available online and for Apple and Android devices. Thingeverse, Tinkercard, XYZ Maker, Gravity Sketch and Qlone which has a 3D scanner are all free programs.

So as the world advances in technology, so does the Macon County School System thanks to Jennifer Love and a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation, which has made it possible to purchase the 12 3D printers used in the classrooms. 

Lynda Elliot, along with her husband, Dewey Elliot, spent their summer creating a great Maker Space area in our library. East Franklin School has the only Maker Space in Macon County.

A Maker Space is an area for designing, creating and building things while learning, exploring science and using technology. It teaches 21st century skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving. Tools include Legos, Stick Bots, marbles, magnet sticks, Keva Planks, Knex, coding robots, marble mazes, a 750 piece snap-circuit kit, creative books, and many more fun building tools. Students get to share what they make in the library window.

Each teacher, along with Elliot, picks four students that have good behavior, show respect, and have worked really hard in class during the week.  These students will get to spend the majority of their library time in the Maker Space, with a particular “challenge” for that session. The Maker Space is a privilege and students want to earn time there.