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An Interview with Paul Rotstein, Lynbrook Senior High School

A few weeks ago, we reported on the efforts of a high school technology teacher, Paul Rotstein, to bring real world learning experiences to his students with 3D printing while at the same time helping others. His team of students used tools learned in class to create one of a kind designs for students at a local hospital for children, St. Mary’s located in Lynbrook, New York. Amazed and awed by the efforts of his students, we reached out to Mr. Rotstein to talk about his experiences with the project and he agreed to our request for an interview. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with his answers appear below:

1) How long have you been working Lynbrook HS? How long have you been teaching technology to HS students?

I have been a Technology Education teacher at Lynbrook Senior High School for 6 years. This was my first teaching job since I graduated from SUNY Oswego.

2) Is this recent example the first time you have tried anything like this with your students? If not, what else have you done previously?

This is my second year collaborating with St. Mary's Hospital for Children. Three years ago my class worked together to design and develop prototypes for a game geared toward children with Fragile X syndrome. This came about by the request of a parent that worked closely with the Fly With Me Fund, a local organization dedicated to helping families living with Fragile X. The family that initiated this project has since taken it much further; presenting at a national Fragile X convention and generating interest to develop an app inspired by our game.


3) What inspired you to use 3D printing to give these students the opportunity to help others? Was this your first experience working with 3D printers?
The wife of one of my colleagues works at St. Mary's. They were considering raising money to purchase a high-end 3D printer for their facility so that they could print customized equipment for their young patients. During one of these discussions, my colleague's wife mentioned that we have been working with 3D printers here at Lynbrook and put us in contact with one another.

We discussed the idea of designing prototypes to demonstrate the impact a 3D printer could have on the hospital. This demonstration would potentially inspire donors to fund the purchase of a printer. After our successful first run at this collaborative project, the focus has shifted. The director of rehab and I both agreed that purchasing a printer may not be as practical as it would be to simply continue our collaboration on an annual basis. This way, they wouldn't have to worry about procuring a machine, finding space for it, hiring people to operate it, and replacing it if/when it becomes outdated.

4) How long have you had 3D printers at your school? What kind of printer(s) did you use for this particular project?
We purchased our first 3D printer, an UP! Mini for the 2013-2014 school year. I was the first teacher in the district to experiment with the technology and since then, our robotics and art teachers have been working with them too. Between us, we have the UP! Mini, a couple of MakerBot Replicators, a FlashForge Creator Pro, and I think someone has a Cube Ekocycle.

5) What types of materials (e.g. filament) are you using for these designs? Additionally, what kind of software are they using?
I mostly work with ABS but we do use PLA as well. I've also been using conductive PLA for styluses so that the are compatible with touch screens.

The software I primarily use for this course is SOLIDWORKS. The students are also very familiar with SketchUp, which we use in my Architecture course.

6) How long did it take these students to learn to adequately use the technology? What were the most difficult things to teach them, and what were the easiest?
Since I'm the one that prints the students' designs, their focus is primarily on the design process and the software. They come into the course with two years of design and drafting experience so they have a strong foundation to build upon from day one. Due to these factors, I have them creating parts and assemblies in SOLIDWORKS in about 3 weeks or so. We of course spend much more time covering the advanced features of the program.

The easiest part is developing design concepts as a group. My classroom is very conducive to creativity with access to dry/erase boards and desktops, computers, drafting boards, and a group of students that are very comfortable working with one another.

The most difficult thing to teach students is how to reel back ideas. Students come up with wonderful ideas that are at times too lofty. What I try to do is to get them to identify their objective and see if there is a simpler solution within their capabilities to execute.

7) Were there any academic qualifications (grades, test scores, pre-requisite courses) required to take this Advanced Design and Innovation class? Is this the first exposure for students to this type of technology?
Yes, the prerequisite courses are Design in Technology and Architectural Design. I teach all three courses. Advanced Design and Innovation is the first class that they use SOLIDWORKS and the 3D printer but they begin 3D design in SketchUp from year one.

8) What have been the reactions of the parents of these students during the design process? Has this piqued the interest of future students who want to participate in something similar?
Parents have been both impressed by the accomplishments of the students and moved by the nature of the project. This has inspired incoming students to carry on the legacy of the project. It has also piqued some students' interests in the field of biomedical engineering.

9) What advice, if any, would you give to fellow educators who are interested in doing a project like the one in your class?
Reach out to a group of people that you feel could benefit from your resources. I couldn't imagine someone turning down an offer to help. Also, do not be intimidated by the challenge. If you have a good rapport with your students then you have the freedom to take risks. I'm not an expert in this type of design work, but I felt confident enough in myself and my students to give it a shot.

10) What do you think schools and universities can do to better (if anything) to foster STEM efforts related to 3D printing? What do you think are the biggest barriers to a novice getting involved with the field and the technology?
I think that there are many good STEM/STEAM programs at the secondary and post-secondary levels. I think the ones that are most effective are those that are truly interdisciplinary, allowing students to apply concepts from all disciplines to solve real-world problems.