3DPrinterOS Case Study: The Weber School

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‍The Weber School is a Jewish community private high school in Atlanta, Georgia, serving students from grades 9 through 12. With an exceptional college prep program, for 25 years it has attracted students with ties to the Jewish community that are on a university-bound trajectory. From an original graduating class of 5 students, The Weber School has grown to over 300 students, with a graduating class of 72 in 2024.

The makerspace: The Daniel Zalik Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Design

Within this prestigious high school is the Daniel Zalik Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Design, or DZA. This makerspace is built to reflect the sources of inspiration behind it: MIT’s makerspace system, and The Invention Studio at Georgia Tech.

There are so many people to whom the DZA owes its existence. It's named after Daniel Zalik, a strong supporter of the STEM field and a humanitarian who believed technology can make the world better. He is the late brother David Zalik, whose wife, Helen Zalik, is the founder of the Zalik Foundation. This foundation provided the grant to make the Daniel Zalik Academy happen.

Two people had the vision to bring STEM to The Weber School. One was Rabbi Ed Harwitz, Head of School; and the other was Michael Karlin, former president of the board of trustees.

And Chris Chapman, Director of Design and Technology worked as the boots on the ground to make it happen. He had seen the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech, and he recognized the immense potential benefit of creating a design and engineering program that would give students the technical skills, at the high school level, to pursue a future engineering and design career path. This was at a time when he was teaching 3D printing and math classes at The Weber School.

The DZA is now managed under the careful stewardship of a passionate team. As well as Christopher, the team includes Madi Anderson, Director of Educational Operations and Community Partnerships; Adna Muliawan, Director of Science, Research and Entrepreneurship; and two DZA Teachers and Assistant Lab Managers, Cathey Chapman and Alex McIntyre.

Madi Anderson

Director of Educational Operations and Community Partnerships

Madi told us that like the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech, students are the leaders in the DZA makerspace. She has helped develop a lab assistant program to implement this, which Alex leads.

Students enter in the 9th or 10th grade, interested in learning about 3D printers, laser cutters, or the engineering program. However, they do not only learn about it and get their own training, but they train other students on its use as well. It's a volunteer program where they are in the lab for a certain number of volunteer hours every two weeks, and gain access to events and extra training. 

This method fosters a sense of ownership among the lab assistants, who are competent to report back to Madi on items to be ordered or changes to be implemented.

Madi has noticed that kids love to learn from other kids. It's a lot more comfortable for them; students who might be too shy to ask an adult how something works are more willing to ask a peer. And the student teachers benefit as well, as teaching their peers reinforces their own knowledge. 

As Madi says, "It's because people ask you questions that you've never thought of or done in that way before. And it's a whole new ballgame every time you get a new question. It teaches the student who is coming in and doesn't know anything, but it also teaches the student who is the peer lab assistant, an entirely new way of looking at it. And it often grounds that education even deeper into their psyche."

Numbers and equipment

‍The DZA currently has 11 3D printers connected to 3DPrinterOS. That includes 10 Prusa MK3s, and one resin printer – a Formlabs 3+. This is an impressive fleet for any high school, and they're working towards a culture where having a 3D printer in the classroom is as common and normal as having a regular printer. This culture is reflected in their stunning 3D printing numbers: since starting in 2019 with 3DPrinterOS to manage their 3D printer fleet, more than 200 yearly individual users have 3D printed more than 2400 3D prints. And they’ve used 94 kg of filament while 3D printing for more than 10,000 hours!

Teachers, disciplines, projects

The teachers at The Weber School have willingly adopted 3D printing into their projects and curriculum at an inspiring level. They have incorporated it into subjects as varied as history, to Judaics, to science, and math. They run it in studios, again patterned on an architecture and design studio you would typically find in a college, where students come in and study for a specific unit. There's an engineering design studio, a programming studio, and finally, a senior capstone where students pull from everything they have learned over the course of the previous 3 years. 

This capstone is a yearlong project they work on typically in a group. Working collaboratively helps students keep each other enthused and accountable as they enter their final high school semester, and as such includes elements of project management.

A lot of the teachers at The Weber School teach more than a single subject, and the makerspace permeates many aspects of their curriculum. Some recent successes belong to Christopher, who teaches a geometry program. He has his students use geometry proofs to build a mini skyscraper, and of course, every floor must be parallel. He also teaches a multi-variable calculus class to advanced students. He had his class build bridges that, although only about 16" and made from 1/2" dowels and wood glue, needed to hold at least 50 pounds of weight. The winning bridge clocked in, able to withhold a staggering 750 pounds of static load!

This hands-on experiential learning is so fun, and the students at The Weber School love it. Their physics class creates small catapults every autumn, using laser cutters and engravers, and then they 3D print a mini pumpkin as their projectile.

In history class, students recently had to create an empire, including its culture and political system, based on ancient empires. The project included making “artifacts” such as a flag or a shield in the DZA. One student 3D printed a model of a ship. As Madi points out, this is a way to draw the kids who love the creative side, into the academics as well.

A glimpse into The Weber School

A unique feature about The Weber School and the DZA is what they call their X-Blocks. These are office hours set aside in the schedule, every single day from Monday to Thursday, where kids can come in and ask their teachers questions, for an hour before and again after school. During those two time blocks the DZA is always open. It's a great time for students to work on their class projects on the 3D printers, but not only class projects - kids are welcome to do some personal projects. A lot of students make small statues or other items related to their passions and interests.

In explaining why they encourage students to create their own projects, Madi touches on the fundamentals of teaching and learning. She points out that especially in the K12 setting, you're trying to build the skills, but even more than that you're trying to build passion and interest. She says, "When you're a little kid, you're learning language. You're not learning language to write a paper; you're learning language to communicate. And that is what we're building, their language of STEM, by doing these crafty and fun projects." These skills will come out later in robotics competitions and eventually their careers, but the passion is built first, and passion is what students will primarily need if they decide to pursue engineering, or design, or the sciences. 

Many of the projects at The Weber School revolve around disability and designing for someone other than yourself. Madi says, "Everyone wants to design for themselves because they know themselves." There can be a reticence to designing something for someone else, because of the unknown. By offering classes that incorporate design thinking, students do a lot of user research, from creating a persona to interviewing users and stakeholders. One project she recalls was a tool for a specific person in a wheelchair, and students created a bespoke grabber for the person. Students had to understand the person’s needs, design the tool, and use the 3D printers to create it.

It was enlightening for students to understand that every person with a disability usually has a unique need. There are no off-the-shelf solutions readily available, yet that's the beauty of 3D printing: files can be adjusted for a new use, instead of having to start from scratch each time.

It was also eye-opening to students that they have the power to create something for someone else. At the high school level, it could be the first time a student realizes the power they have to positively impact someone's life.

Madi Anderson makes STEM subjects approachable

Madi is passionate about her work for Young Women in STEM. One challenge is communicating to students what STEM is, and what it is not, and to overcome stigmas and preconceived ideas. She points out that students often don't realize that the very activities they already love come under the broad STEM category. Young children love blocks, and Legos, and crafts, but at some point students get the idea that building things equals advanced math and science, and it scares a lot of students away. A tough experience in math, for example, can make a young girl think STEM isn't for her. So with passion and patience, Madi draws students in and gets them excited about 3D printing, excited to build and create. She tells them, "Just because we use an acronym, does not mean that it is math and science. It's accessible." And sometimes she'll point out to students, "Hey, this is STEM. You don't think it is, because it's fun." 

Having graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial design, Madi started with set design for filming, then moved to a lab manager role at The Weber School. A break from being in the makerspace gave her an up-close view of 3D printing as used in the “real” world, where she used her skills and experience in the aerospace industry for several years. Although she enjoyed the intense industrial side, she seized the opportunity when it arose, for a fulfilling role at The Weber School as director of operations and community outreach at the DZA. She makes sure the lab is running smoothly and develops partnerships with other schools and outside programs. One that's currently in the works is partnering with some K through 8 programs, so the makerspace can be available to them for after-school programs and more.

The Weber School has seen the value of having the wider community come into the makerspace. There are days available year-round where they open the lab not only to students, but to their parents and grandparents, to their friends and acquaintances. It provides such a bonding opportunity, making things together, and most parents would not have had access to this type of makerspace when they were students themselves.

About 3DPrinterOS

When Madi started at The Weber School, in 2019, their whole 3D printing program was run with SD cards. They were running Prusa 3D printers, so this meant a constant back-and-forth of uploading from Prusa slicer to an SD card, and then taking it to the 3D printer. Students would add their details and the print details to a clipboard, including how long it would take to print. Staff had to sign off to make sure each project was good to go.

This made it very hard to control how much some students were allowed to 3D print. While The Weber Schol did (and still does) encourage students to use the makerspace to create personal projects, some students took their innovation and creativity to the next level and would make vast quantities of little statues...to sell to other students!

Christopher Chapman, the director who started the makerspace, eventually found 3DPrinterOS, and they have been successfully using it ever since. As Madi says, "It gives us full access, full control. It allows us to add users. It allows us to watch from home, so we can start a print, and then not come in the next day to find that it crashed and is dead on the floor."

Now students are taught to use 3DPrinterOS from the start. Madi shows them how to log in, and adds them into the system to make sure they have everything they need. From then on, students can queue their own work, and if necessary the admin staff can review it before they print it out. The 3DPrinterOS platform sends an email to the student if there are any issues with the print, for example, if it cancels midway. 

Madi says 3DPrinterOS has been a lifesaver to them, drastically cutting the amount of work to get a successful 3D print, and giving students far more autonomy over their own projects.

Advice from the DZA

We asked Madi for her advice for someone in her position, running a makerspace, but new to 3DPrinterOS. Her response was definite: make use of user groups.

The way she has set it up means that teachers and staff have full privileges. They can sign off on 3D prints as needed. But there's another group that has full privileges too: the lab assistants. These students have enough training and experience to allow them to edit designs, and can 3D print without needing to get permission from staff. This has alleviated significant pressure, as the staff has more bandwidth to provide the assistance needed by students with little or no experience.

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