In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama noted the national importance of mastering new technologies like three-dimensional printing and called for schools to “develop new partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.” His description fits the activities of an initiative under way at the University of Virginia.
In collaboration with Charlottesville and Albemarle public schools, U.Va. established the first Laboratory School for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies in the nation. The school opened its first site this year at Charlottesville’s Buford Middle School. The Buford lab features 2-D die cutters and 3-D printers that produce objects students create with computer-aided design software. “It’s one thing to learn about mathematics or technology,” says Glen Bull, codirector of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education in the Curry School of Education and one of the leaders of the initiative. “It’s another to learn it firsthand through practical application.”
The laboratory school draws its inspiration from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s Rapid Prototyping Laboratory, which offers leading-edge 3-D printers and technology for manufacturing products. Teachers from Buford and the other area schools participating in the project are working with their counterparts in education and engineering at U.Va. to develop lesson plans. The University group will be able to support instruction in real time, thanks to a new videoconferencing system linking the schools.
One of the laboratory school’s purposes is to train students for high-tech jobs. As the program expands to area high schools, students will have the option to participate in an Advanced Manufacturing career track, earning dual-enrollment credit through Piedmont Virginia Community College.
But Hossein Haj-Hariri, chair of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and Bull’s partner in this project, stresses that it is not an honors program. “We’re trying to serve all students,” Haj-Hariri says. “No matter what career choice they make, they’ll be better at it if they understand math and science.”