A Thunderdome of Engineering in Hillsboro, Part 1: Why 3D Printers Are Important For You

Continued in part 2…


We recently had a chance to tour Hillsboro High School’s engineering department, and were inspired by what we saw. Today we’re going to give you a tour of one Oregon high school whose engineering program is top-notch, and we’ll also show you some steps you can take to improve your own high school’s engineering program at the end of this post.

This is one of the 3D printers, designed by MakerBot, that students can use to prototype in Mr. Domes's classes.

Engineering today involves a lot of things, but at its core it’s still all about creating. Creating solutions to problems. And that usually involves fabricating some sort of tool or device.

The guts of the HH 3D printers. Students were involved in the construction and calibration, too. Awesome.

Hillsboro High has one particular instructor named Don Domes. He’s CTE certified as a career and technical educator, and has real industry experience as an engineer, and he’s got a passion for passing his knowledge on to his students.

Mr. Domes is a believer of the Fab Lab concept, the idea that every engineer (household, even) should have its own fabrication lab. And what’s more, that it’s possible to make this a reality.

In the past, fabrication equipment has been extremely expensive and could host today’s equivalent of well over $100,000. But now computers, used to design, are everywhere; printers, used to create real blueprints and designs, are cheaper than the ink they use; and 3D printers, used for rapid 3D prototyping, are becoming cheap enough for schools to afford.

When your teacher's paper-cutter handle breaks, you can 3D print a new one for extra credit.

We love talking about 3D printers, by the way.

What’s the point of any of this? Well, his students design using CAD programs just like any other engineering classes might. But designing something on a 2D computer screen is just a little different from actually holding the thing you designed. And when you have the design, it doesn’t do anything, does it?

A chess set made by a HH student.

The beauty of having a 3D printer is that students in Mr. Domes’s classes can design and actually fabricate whatever they want. And the requirements aren’t very strict. After making a few set designs to learn the ropes, students can make whatever they choose so long as the designs are decently complex and can solve a problem, or at least be reasonably awesome. Students have made tools for geometry class (solves a problem), a companion cube (awesome),  guitar picks (both) and, as you can see, even chess sets.

One of the coolest legit engineering devices we saw there were Geneva drives, a gear-like system that translates constant rotation into intermittent rotation, like what you see in clocks (that’s what they were invented for, by the way). Check it out:

A student-made-and-3D-printed Geneva drive, made to be compatible with LEGOs.

This is all pretty exciting stuff, but just like designing something is pointless without being able to touch it, seeing this is pointless without being able to make it happen for you too. There are a couple hard facts you’re going to have to face, but there are solutions for them.

First, you’ll have to convince your engineering or science teacher that something like this is going to be useful. If your school has a CAD class, this shouldn’t be hard—because a 3D printer is the next logical step in improving a CAD class. But if you don’t, the first step is convincing your engineering or science teacher that CAD is important enough to teach. There’s a lot of stuff on the internet about how important CAD is, so do some research.

Second, you’ll have to convince your teacher it’s worth the money. Money can be hard to come by from a school, as a lot of schools are stingy with their money. Talk to your teacher about applying for a grant to fund the upgrade—especially if you’re simultaneously convincing them to start teaching CAD. In fact, Mr. Domes does just this. He has a history of getting grants and donations to get/keep his school’s engineering classes funded. There are lots of people willing to financially help schools out—you’ve just got to ask, or get a teacher to.

Just remember this: Hillsboro High has a great teacher, who’s playing a key role in driving their engineering program forward. You might be lucky enough to have the same kind of teacher, but you also might not. If your school doesn’t have a teacher acting as that force, you have to be the driving force of the change you want to see.

Continued in Part 2…

Read on:


2 thoughts on “A Thunderdome of Engineering in Hillsboro, Part 1: Why 3D Printers Are Important For You

  1. Pingback: A Thunderdome of Engineering in Hillsboro, Part 2: Getting ready for college and more. | GetReal

  2. Pingback: Tour Hillsboro Highschool’s Engineering Program for Free. | GetReal

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