3D printing and ‘Serviam’ model mesh at Ursuline

By Jessica Buckle
Contributing writer

During the spring of 2016, Ursuline’s religion department chair, Jonathan Baynham, had a vision for a service learning project that would somehow incorporate the school’s 3D printer. An abstract thought at the time turned into an inspirational experience that let students collaborate across disciplines that tend to stay separate.

St. Angela reminds us that “We have a greater need to serve others than they have to be served.”

With the eighth-grade service focus of working with the elderly, the 2016-17 school year brought us a relationship with PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), an affiliate ministry of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. PACE provides day-to-day socialization experiences, rehab and nutritional counseling and elderly, pastoral and nursing care.

The service project that began as a tiny seed – a vision to incorporate technology into theology – quickly bloomed into an incredible example of Serviam, project-based learning and giving in action.

Projects were to have students connect with the elderly in a unique way, get a glimpse into their daily lives and learn about the students’ impact on our city throughout their experience.

Being paired with PACE participants who were in various religious orders and who enjoyed prayer time, students quickly learned about the history of the church in New Orleans and various religious. This connection fulfilled a project mission objective – the importance of prayer through service.

Led by faculty member Kevin Gunn, the eighth-grade religion classes began studying Scripture to select prayers and Bible verses that were meaningful to them.

Because Ursuline values the exposure to and development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, students take their first technology class in eighth grade and are introduced to 3D design and 3D printing. This proved to be the perfect cross-curricular collision we were hoping for. The girls began to conceptualize and design faith-inspired objects that could be printed and paired with their unique prayer cards to distribute as inspirational gifts for our friends at PACE and the larger community.

Throughout the semester, the girls learned about our MakerBot Desktop Replicator 3D Printer, as well as the amazing benefits of 3D technology from a global perspective, giving students the insight needed to further develop their designs and make real-world connections to projects.

Using the 3D design and printing app Tinkercad, students could test their ideas in real space, correcting errors in engineering or analyzing data to help improve their design. When completed, each design took about two hours to print. Many students chose to stay and watch the printing process because they were so excited to see their design come to life! One student designed and printed a small turtle dove with sandstone filament, accompanied with the verse from Psalm 74:19, “Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever.”

It took three days for all 72 eighth-grade girls to travel off campus to deliver their designs and prayer cards and visit with PACE members. These small gifts served as a sense of inspiration and hope, while fulfilling our commitment to Serviam.

Our Academy President, Dr. Karen McNay, encourages us to remember “Ursuline (pledges) to educate all women as leaders in a global society.” This project truly gave our faculty and students the opportunity to “walk the talk.” The more we can allow our students to make connections between the same types of ideas across a variety of classes, the more we are preparing them for a collaborative future in a global society. Students thrive when they are guided to produce quality work they can relate to, and when that energy is infused with inspiration and creativity, the end results are truly inspiring.   

Jessica Buckle is a technology teacher at Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.

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