When Cumberland Perry AVTS teacher Chris Champion’s students were struggling with the intricacies of computer programming, he came up with the perfect way to make the learning hands-on and fun.
Have the students build small robots, which they would then program. But as the students became more involved with the ‘bots, it was sometimes hard to find the right parts.
That’s when Champion had his next inspiration – see if the school could obtain a 3D printer so students could both learn about the cutting-edge technology as they designed parts for their robots and other projects.
To raise the money for the $2,500 MakerBot Replicator 2 printer, Champion asked for donations on the education-fundraising site Donors Choose.org and raised more than $2,400 and the printer company donated the rest. The printer, which can make objects up to 11 inches long and 6 inches tall, arrived late last year.
“I started robotics because some of my students were struggling with programming because when things go wrong, it’s hard to put your hands on it,’’ Champion said. “If there’s a problem in your code it can be hard to figure out, but if a robot turns right instead of left, you can say ‘oh, I have to have a negative instead of a positive.’”
With the 3D printer, which uses a plastic made of biodegradable cornstarch called PLA, or Plyactic Acid, the students can make various robot parts and try out other projects. In addition to their programming skills, working with the printer has introduced them to 3D modeling programs.
With the help of parts made by the printer, earlier this month a team from the class entered a robot project in the annual Nanoline Contest sponsored by German-based Phoenix Contact, which has offices in Middletown. The team came in second with a project that used Phoenix’s Nanoline control system to raise and lower a series of obstacles in a maze that the students’ robots had to navigate.
On Fridays, Champion said he likes to give his students time to work on their own projects and the 3D printer gives them the opportunity to experiment.
“It gives them the ability to try out new ideas and see what works,’’ Champion said. “In any industry it helps if you are able to think creatively and outside the box.’’