Lakeshore students harness 3-D technology

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


As gambles go, the $20,000 bet St. William principal Carl Bull placed on his students’ future by pushing for a technology lab at the school seemed as safe as they come.

With three 3-D printers and the numerous computers needed to operate the equipment, St. William is the only elementary school in Ontario to be equipped with such sophisticated technology.

“I’m thrilled to say it has exceeded our expectations,” Bull said at an assembly Monday to unveil the Lakeshore school’s technology plans.

“I’m not having to chase kids into the lab. They’re engaged.

“After only five weeks, the students were running the lab themselves.”

As a former math teacher, Bull thought the 3-D printers would be a good way to help teach the challenging concepts of measurement, algebra and geometry.


“What I liked about the idea is it allows the kids to use the mathematical concepts to make something they can hold in their hand at the end of the day,” said Bull, who will give a presentation on the school’s experience during a technology conference next month in Niagara Falls. 

“The other thing is this technology isn’t just for an elite team of kids.”

The printers are part of an expansive technology strategy being introduced that will encompass the school’s 600 students from JK to Grade 8.

In Grade 4, students will be introduced to circuit boards. All primary grades will be get exposed to robotics and coding.

Every Grade 8 student will learn how to use the 3-D printers and those students will then teach the Grade 7s.

“I definitely like the creativity,” said Grade 8 student Mitchell Myers.

“It’s incredible what you can do. This gives me an opportunity that other people don’t have.”

Bull credited the school’s parents’ council and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board for supporting the ambitious project.

He was also successful in forging partnerships with Papp Plastics and International Machinery owner Marty Pathak.

The two firms each supplied one of the $5,000 printers. The school raised the other $10,000 needed to set up the lab project.

“This is an amazing program we can be proud of in this community,” said Michael Papp, co-owner of Papp Plastics.

“This is a blueprint for the future on how we can defend our market share of the automotive industry.

“Technology is the future for these kids.”

Learning how to troubleshoot problems when the technology doesn’t work is also part of the education.

“The hardest part was to get the computers and the print machines talking and working together,” said Grade 8 student Michael Schembri.

“We had to go onto YouTube looking for help. We downloaded and fiddled around with some stuff until we got it right.”

Schembri has made a replica of his room, complete with furniture, a portable speaker and a light sabre so far.

“This and coding are the new frontier,” Schembri said. “I like the idea of having this skill set for a job in the future.”

Niklas Wrobel feels pushing technology further down into the younger grades is going to unearth some surprises.

He said teaching the Grade 7s for a few short weeks has already resulted in picking up some ideas from his younger peers.

“The younger students are very inventive and creative,” Wrobel said. “They could bring whole new ideas and uses for the printer.

“If you can think of it, your can probably print it.”

Bull said 3-D printing could also be used to improve student engagement in other classes such as history by printing out replicas of artifacts.

“The challenge to expanding this is creating the financial and structural infrastructure to make it go forward,” Bull said.