Twenty New Jersey teachers participated in a three-day virtual STEM Teacher Workshop Jan. 25, 27 and 29 as part of a program led by Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

The workshop focused on computer-aided design, or CAD, using software that enables teachers and students to create and make 3-dimensional designs for 3D printing, engineering, or entertainment.

The sessions were instructed by Matthew Thaxter, Professional Development Specialist/Account Manager, Teq, Inc. Teq is a New York-based company that provides professional development and instructional support to educators. The organization partnered with Picatinny Arsenal in December 2020 with 3D printers and associated professional development.

The purpose of the STEM Teacher Workshop was to expose and advance the skills of teachers with TinkerCAD, a free, online 3D modeling program.

“CAD has been around for a very long time, yet with the advent of web-enabled devices, 3D software needed to be simplified for younger students; TinkerCAD was designed to be the beginner mode of 3D design,” said Thaxter. “The teachers who joined me went through how I would instruct students with step-by-step procedures to satisfy various projects and then share with the group.”

Topics covered during the 3D environment workshop with TinkerCAD included:

- Using the Class mode of the teacher portal to moderate and guide students

- Importing and customizing models

- Creating hollow objects and shells, such as fish habitat or vessels for plants

- Repetition, tessellation, patterns and 3D jigsaw puzzle-making

- Articulated joints and connections

“It’s no surprise that more of an emphasis is being placed on introducing the arts into STEM programs,” said Thaxter. “According to a study by Kent State University, students who study the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. As a result, educators are looking for innovative ways to reestablish the arts in their curriculum.

“3D printers have emerged as a powerful tool to reintroduce the arts by allowing students to use their imagination and creativity. Students experience the full design process from start to finish. Using CAD software, students can design a 3D object, and then create that object using the printer.

“By designing 3D objects using CAD software, students can better understand how 3D shapes fit and work together to create 3D models based on their imagination. Being able to understand how 3D shapes work and fit together can also result in improvements in a student’s spatial intelligence. Spatial intelligence is the ability

to grasp 3D images and shapes mentally and visually.”

Thaxter, who’s been working with Teq, Inc., since May 2008, said he provides professional development for a varied number of products and skills… TinkerCAD is just a small portion of the job. He also teaches evening high school Economics for students who cannot accommodate in-school scheduling. He uses TinkerCAD as a means of discussing entrepreneurship and business/markets structures leading to the possibilities of technology in careers after high school.

“I would like to thank the Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach for allowing me and Teq to provide the wonderful educators of New Jersey the opportunity of expanding and encouraging skills for 3D designs not just for them, but for their students,” Thaxter said.

The mission of Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach is to provide the future workforce needed in Department of Defense Laboratories and contribute to a technologically proficient society, according to its webpage on the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center website.

“Educating local educators regarding the value of CAD in their day-to-day programs will pass that information on to students who will enter our workforce with functional knowledge of 3D CAD design and additive manufacturing which reduces time to get new hires on projects,” said Shahram Dabiri, Picatinny Arsenal STEM director.

The Picatinny STEM Outreach team usually deploys three or four in-person teacher training workshops per year. However, the coronavirus pandemic impacted the decision to now offer the workshops through telepresence training.

Dabiri said he received some very positive feedback regarding the workshop.

Michael Yob, a technology teacher at Manchester Regional High School, in Haledon, N.J., said he jumped at the opportunity to continue training with Picatinny Arsenal and plans to do it again in the future. Yob instructs classes in Intro to Computer Engineering, Intro to Computer Science, and certification courses for Cisco Internet Academy.

“I have been teaching very basic TinkerCAD 3D printing for a few years and was hoping to refine my skills and also maybe brainstorm lesson ideas,” Yob said. “This training gave me a lot of ideas, answered long-standing questions I had about troubleshooting designs, and convinced me to spend much more time in class using the software. Having access to a professional in my teaching area with a higher level of expertise than me is a rare occurrence. Hearing how other teachers implemented lessons was also very valuable to me.”

Another workshop participant, James Hofmann, Teacher of Technology, Newton High School in Newton, N.J., said, “I knew that TinkerCAD could be a valuable tool and could serve as a substitute for 3D modeling needs in our courses. Until now, I had dismissed it in search of other industry-standard modeling software. Picatinny Arsenal saves the day. This awesome virtual three-day workshop training was so beneficial. I can now say confidently I can go back to my classes and perform with TinkerCAD and offer the Chromebook students a gift of what I call becoming a new (CAD entrepreneur).”

Hofmann, who teaches high school Technology/STEM/Robotics/Architecture, described the workshop as a perfectly delivered and paced learning opportunity.

“I enjoyed each session and the chance to interact with my cohort, and the teacher we had – Matt – was fantastic,” he said. “I can now unlock the full potential of AutoDesk’s TinkerCAD to enable my students to become (CAD entrepreneurs) in this 21st Century global learning environment.”

Hofmann said this workshop taught him “the many features and potential of merging ideas when you think it, sketch it, export it, 3D print it, then rapid prototype it.”

“This training also showed how we could infuse so many other classes and teachers in our schools… mapping with topographical maps, geography, science, mathematics, social studies, English, foreign languages, and art,” he said.

Newton High School, which fully embraces 3D printing and its design potential among its curriculum of STEM offerings, is in its 12th year as a partnership school with Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach.

“I feel very fortunate that I can draw from the amazing well of both military and civilian professionals, engineers and scientists on base,” said Hofmann.