Helping students thrive with 3D printing at CHAD

The Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) is dedicated to sparking intellectual curiosity through innovative curriculum. With a 3D printer on hand, design teacher Christopher Sweeney aims to help underserved students achieve educational goals in liberal arts, architecture, and design, reaching 48 different areas in Philadelphia.

A hands-on approach to learning

Preparing students for the ever-changing technologies in the future of architecture and design isn’t an easy task, but CHAD is up for the challenge. One of the design teachers on staff, Christopher Sweeney, dedicates his time to furthering that mission by exposing students to emerging design techniques like 3D printing. He says,

“Not all students learn the same way in the same direction. If they walk away from class having learned something they’ll use all of their life, then I succeeded.”

Aiming for an energetic and open learning environment, Chris operates his design classes by encouraging students to learn and think with their hands and hearts through additive manufacturing. Teaching young minds in grades 9 through 12 isn’t always a breeze, as some may not have had formal education in art or design. Despite that, Chris says he sees an intense willingness to learn in his 22nd year of teaching.

CHAD student 3D print

CHAD student project in an Ultimaker

Challenging eager young minds means staying on top of the latest technologies, which is why Chris enjoys introducing students to digital fabrication and 3D models. “They think it’s pretty awesome,” he says. “Especially when it works with another maker tool or something functional in their life.” It’s important to Chris that students develop a good work ethic and solid problem-solving skills while they practice knowledge in design, art, math, science, or any other area of interest.

Productivity at the push of a button

As Chris set out to incorporate 3D printing into his curriculum at CHAD, he faced obstacles in budget, materials, and workflow. An affordable machine that could produce high-quality prints was vital in his search for easy machine integration into his classroom workflow. When researching Ultimaker, Chris was drawn to the craftsmanship, ease of use, and aesthetic of the printers, as well as the possibilities for design. He chose the Ultimaker 2 Extended+ for use in CHAD design classes, which he found reduced time and money spent by half.

“The possibilities are almost endless when you push the button. 3D printing with the Ultimaker has changed how I work and the process of what I do tremendously. Whether it’s design, art, or anything in between, it’s a whole new way of thinking.”

The printer runs 4 to 6 hours per day with constant student projects in the queue. Not only have they saved time and money running an Ultimaker at CHAD, but also the quality and characteristics of printed parts have impressed Chris and his class. Additionally, although Ultimaker machines have a variety of settings, students can easily print in just a few steps—a feature Chris appreciates in a busy classroom after teaching students how to design objects for 3D printing.

3D printed piece

Piece designed and printed by a student

Challenging students to expand horizons

Along with working on regular design projects, Chris likes to challenge his students to think in an entrepreneurial mindset in hopes of expanding their horizons. One such project involved a senior design challenge to create a prosthetic for a middle schooler named Sara who has cerebral palsy.

3D model 3D model before printing
3D print in progress CHAD CHAD 3D printed prosthetic

Aptly titled the Sara Project, the challenge took six months to complete with students running through many 3D prints and testing stages. Once finished, they had successfully designed a prosthetic for Sara that allowed her to draw and paint, possibly for the first time in her life. Chris says about the project,

“That is what we in education call an “a-ha” moment. It makes everything wonderful.”

Students at CHAD are regularly challenged to design tools, parts for instruments, and much more. He hopes that by learning 3D printing technologies, CHAD design students will graduate with the knowledge they need to work in the future of design, especially in additive technologies.

Planning for problem solving

In the near future, Chris wants to add an Ultimaker 3 to his classroom and purchase an Ultimaker 2 Go for himself. He’s excited about the possibility of discovering new ways to use materials in 3D printing, with the hope that art, design, engineering, math, and science will mesh more than ever before.

Ultimaker 3D print in progress

A 3D printed design from CHAD

Chris also sees a great opportunity for additive manufacturing to help those in new trades practice problem-solving. “3D printing is the key that opens the lock for so many to understand how to create, make, and tackle problems in their education, as well as in life,” he says. The strides educators take today will undoubtedly impact the future capabilities of their design-focused students.  

Check out our Explore pages and Pioneer Program for more stories on 3D printing applications in education!

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