The first day we got to Maker Faire was a special preview day for all the makers and vendors, and special interest groups. At the end of the day, I wandered around and ended up at a booth that was called, “3D printing, kids, and CAD”.
The booth was run by kids and instructors from the Discovery Charter School in Phoenix, AZ. They were at Maker Faire showing off the projects and printers that they had for their school, as well as the success their school had when they implemented some changes. Their message was essentially to bring more hands-on design into kids hands as young as possible. At the school, they have several 3D printers and classes where kids can experiment with their own designs. Kids could build something of their own and have it produced right there.
One of the main people running the booth mentioned that they had seen significant improvement in their students once they had implemented the hands-on design classes. One student that he mentioned specifically started at MIT when he was 17 years old. It was also interesting to hear of students starting engineering experience as early as elementary school. We got to experience some of this at our booth when James (one of my fellow interns and Maker Faire attendees) had an elementary school-aged kid wire up an oscillator faster than he could.
The main person that I was talking to was wearing a pin with an LED on it. When I asked him about it, he told me that a parent had designed it as part of a class in basic electronics. The parent designed the PCB and the kids could then solder it together as part of this new class.
Interestingly enough, I actually didn’t learn to solder until I started working here at Digilent, so it was really exciting to hear about parents getting more involved in their schools in order to inspire ingenuity and teach more hands-on skills. This booth was particularly interesting to me, as I want to work in education and I have experience working as a nanny. It is promising to hear success stories about kids using and designing with more complicated equipment.
Another interesting thing I talked about with them is Tinkercad. I use Tinkercad for all of my 3D designs and I always thought of it as 3D design for kids. That is what the Discovery Charter School uses. Tinkercad is a web-based 3D modeling tool. As embarrassing as it is, I actually had no idea you could type in dimensions to Tinkercad until they showed me. All this time I thought you had to drag for dimensions. This was, of course, life-changing information.
The Discovery Charter School is just one example of a school that shares some of the core values of Digilent. As you probably know, here at Digilent we believe that “the best engineers are made out of the classroom”. In other words, it’s the hands-on experience and design experience that students get outside of the classroom that will impact their career the most. This is why we try get equipment into the hands of every college student with the Analog Discovery and boards like the Basys 3. Also why we post all of our MakerSpace projects online and keep our targeted learning modules on our very own Learn site.