WEST LIBERTY — One step inside the front door of West Liberty Middle School, one might hear a high pitched mechanical hum not unlike a sound heard from R2-D2 of the "Star Wars" franchise.
But one wouldn't find the droid they were looking for. Humming away inside Jackie Henderson's office is the school's 3D printer.
Using designs created by students, Henderson is 3D printings ornaments to be auctioned off in an effort to raise money for the school's ministerial association. The online auction ends Desc. 12 and ornaments can be picked up Dec. 13 at the school. From fir trees to music clefs arranged to look like hearts, students are learning the basics of 3D design by rendering the ornaments.
Henderson explained that it all began this past year as she was teaching students to use TinkerCad, a 3D design program students can access through the internet.
"They designed ornaments as part of a project last year," Henderson explained. "At the end of that, I began thinking about how it would be really neat to try and turn it into something charitable. I was working with a 7th grade math group and we got to talking about the possibility of doing a project. We got them behind it and we decided to proceed this year."
Though Henderson said that she helps instruct them on how to use the program, most of the work is done in their free time.
"It's introduced in the classroom but then most of what happens is they take off on their own and spend hours and hours at night," Henderson said. "As a teacher, that's the exciting part. They get a little taste of it here, but what I see happening is that they are finding this love of creating and designing and spending free time at home doing this."
To bring their ornaments to life, a hard plastic filament, akin to thick fishing line is fed into the printer. The machine heats up to an excess of 400 degrees and begins constructing a plastic object to the student's specifications.
Brooklyn Buisse, Karla Velasco and Finley Hall are all 7th graders at West Liberty Middle School. Each designed an ornament for the auction.
"She came to us with the idea of doing something for, like, Christmas time, Buisse said. "It's the time of giving. And she wanted to hear our ideas about what would be something we could do to help the community."
"We do a lot with technology," Hall said. "But these designs, they take a lot longer than you would think."
For both Hall and Buisse, sports make for an added time crunch.
"We play a lot of sports so usually we don't get home until 5 or 5:30," Hall said. "When we leave there it's late so our time is pretty small."
That's not true for everyone.
"I actually have a lot of time," Velasco said. "I do this because it is really fun. I like to create something that I didn't know that I could. I think we are really lucky to have a 3D printer to create our own things."
Hall echoed this sense of gratitude.
"We are really fortunate to have a 3D printer," Hall said. I like to make things that surprise people, but most schools don't get a chance to have these sorts of experiences."
"Just the power that technology has in our lives right now, it's a lot," Buisse said. "And we depend on it for a lot of the things that we do."