Teacher to Teacher: Children Are Never Too Young for Mastercam

Elizabeth Cochrane-Benoit, Principal at Captain Leland Norton Elementary School in San Bernadino, California, shared the following about the experience of providing technical education to students from a very early age.

We have four hundred fifty students in our STEM program, from first to sixth grade. To grab and keep their interest, we create projects that are easy for them to learn, and we show them that what they are learning in the program, and how they are learning it, relates to how things are made in the grown-up world. Because of COVID-19, all learning must now take place in their homes and we have provided each student with a laptop computer, headset, and Hotspot®, so they do not have to worry about having internet service, to keep them connected to their teachers. It is almost as though the child is right in the classroom. Days are set aside when parents can pick up their child’s completed projects.

We begin with Tinkercad® through the second grade. This is a variety of software tools that makes it easy for very young children to design basic projects. For the first grade, they draw a blueprint for a plant, including the stem, leaves, and blossom. After the students lay out the design, they forward it to the school to be produced on one of our 3D printers. Second graders make a planter box for the plant, using math to create the three-dimensional box. In third grade, they will use CorelDraw® to produce things like an animal or a house. This leads to SOLIDWORKS® and Mastercam through sixth grade, allowing them to produce increasingly complex projects like 3D solar systems and greenhouses for our school’s gardens that include hydroponics.

Our school is environmentally focused. We start with plants and plant boxes in the early grades and work up to standard gardens; hydroponics where we raise plants without soil; and even aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, together in one integrated system. Keeping them interested is accomplished, especially with the skills they exhibit to their parents with each completed project.

We have thirty-five seats of SOLIDWORKS and Mastercam in our computer lab, in addition to the 3D printers, CNC mills, and a laser cutter to handle all the children’s projects. What is most important, though, is stimulating the teachers to promote CAD/CAM, which is Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing, to the students and parents. Before you can get the children excited about learning how to use the computer to design and make things, you first have to win over the teachers. I took our teachers with me when I attended classes for Mastercam. We all came away enthused and ready to incorporate this new technology into our STEM program. Having the school administration on your side is also a big plus.

Right now, we are looking forward to the possibility of becoming a K-8 school. This would allow us to grant certificates to students attesting to their skills in CAD/CAM that would go toward credit in high school, should they continue their studies in automated manufacturing.