Inspiration takes shape for students in 3-D printing course | ParkRecord.com

Inspiration takes shape for students in 3-D printing course

When Brad Gannon was young, he spent endless hours feeding his hunger for creativity, tinkering with objects and building things out of wood, plastic and clay. It wasn't until his freshman year of college that he ever built something using a computer and 3-D modeling software.

Many students in Park City didn't have to wait that long.

Gannon this week was teaching a summer course called "Explore 3-D Design & Printing." It gave students entering grades five through seven the kind of opportunity most children throughout the country can only dream about. They were slated to spend the week designing models on laptops, such as custom keychains, then watching them take shape with the help of a 3-D printer.

"It's important to just get out of that summer routine and shake things up," said Gannon, who teaches at Ecker Hill Middle School. "Most kids don't have a chance to do this. Most kids in our country and our world do not have the opportunity to have these printers here and have access to them."

It does not take a long conversation with Gannon to discover that he's passionate about computer modeling. He believes getting a taste of it can spark a student to become interested in a career in engineering or computer science.

But more simplistically than that, even, he said it's crucial for all students to build things because it accesses a different part of their brains than areas of study like math and science. Woodshop classes used to be the outlet for students to tinker and create. Now, he said, it happens on a laptop.

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"It energizes the mind to think creatively," he said. "With young individuals, actually being able to see something, then go from designing something to production is huge — actually figuring it out and visualizing and putting it all together. It's just cool."

The ease of the computer software makes it possible for students to begin 3-D modeling younger than ever. In Gannon's summer course, the students don't have to program any code or draw intricate designs. The most advanced computer skill they need is the ability to drag and drop.

That makes it accessible, yet it still stimulates their brains, Gannon said.

"These students at this age need to understand how to actually visualize something and create something and work with working models," he said. "A lot of them can maybe visualize it, but they can't actually create it. This just allows us to bring in that younger generation."

Gannon is optimistic that participating in the course can inspire some of the students to eventually consider going into engineering. If the seed is planted, perhaps a student begins by simply going home and exploring how things work. Eventually, that could blossom into a passion like it did for Gannon.

"It brings me a lot of joy and a lot of happiness, realizing that I'm helping to shape these future generations to go into careers that I'm interested in and that I'm stoked about," he said, adding that he was pleased to see several girls take the class despite engineering currently being a male-dominated field.

Jack Allison was one student who may be inspired by the course. He said he's always been interested in 3-D printing and that it was awesome to experience it firsthand.

"I wanted to learn how to 3-D print," he said. "I don't know, really. I just think it's really cool and I wanted to learn it."