As educators search for ways to solve old problems with emergent technology, the answer often comes from 3D printing. Javier Montiel, who teaches bilingual education at Velasco Elementary School, turned to LulzBot 3D printers to help students who struggle with basic concepts in phonetics and increase their knowledge of syllables in the Spanish language.
“After a deep reflection process of what could be the best approach for these students to write and manipulate syllables, my first thought was to cut and laminate bulky cards,” Montiel said. “Then I raised my head, and I saw the school’s LulzBot Mini 3D Printer. Just like a flash, inside my mind, I saw the syllables being printed and my students touching, manipulating, dragging, and dropping the complete syllables to create words with them.”
The fact that LulzBot 3D Printers are certified Open Source Hardware, with an open filament system and a platform that accepts 3D model files produced by numerous CAD programs, was helpful for Montiel during the creation process. The syllables were able to be designed with structural integrity and separation between the letters so they could be easily recognized, and Cura LulzBot Edition proved to be easy and intuitive.
Once a prototype was designed and printed, Montiel’s students at Velasco Elementary School, located within Greater Houston’s Brazosport Independent School District, started to understand how the syllables function, such as having the vowel go after the consonant.
“At the beginning stage of the project, the students used Text to Speech technology to realize if they were able to produce the correct words using the 3D printed syllables using a constructionist approach,” Montiel said. “After the Text to Speech phase, the students produced the words using their working memory to create words on a working mat.”
Two versions of this mat were created. A paper version allows students to put the 3D printed syllables around the frame and generate words by dragging and dropping the syllables into the center of the mat. The paper mats inspired an electronic tablet version, which enables students to use their finger to drag and drop multiple recurrent syllables.
Montiel further leveraged LulzBot 3D printers by rapid prototyping a variation of the syllables that have rings to string on a shoelace and make a necklace. This increases the time of exposure and allows the students to constantly practice even as they participate in other activities throughout the day.
As 3D printing becomes more accessible in the K-12 environment, it allows educators outside of the traditional STEM subjects to take a disruptive new approach when they consider ways to serve their students.
“3D printing is a great way to materialize the needs and possibilities of educators like myself by allowing us to create with our hands our dreams and ideas in plastic,” Montiel said.
Photos licensed CC BY-SA 4.0 International © Javier Montiel.