Mount Greylock Regional High School students have been assembling a 3-D printer kit.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Let other kids worry about the newest 3-D film at the multiplex.
In Richard Scullin's office at Mount Greylock Regional School, the buzz is about a 3-D printer.
The school acquired its newest piece of technology in the middle of December. Actually, it acquired pieces of a Printrbot Simple, and it was up to the students themselves to turn those pieces into a machine that soon will allow them to turn their ideas from computer-aided designs to three-dimensional objects.
"The cool thing about this printer is it's drawing these kids out of the woodwork," Scullin said. "It's kind of funny. They're kind of like moths to a flame."
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, five of those "moths," all freshmen at the high school, were drawn to Scullin's office during their directed study period, what their parents might have called study hall.
Scullin came to Mount Greylock last year as the school's instructional technology specialist. He brought with him connections in his field that allowed Mount Greylock to compete for and win a grant from the the National Writing Project that, in part, funded the 3-D printer acquisition.
The idea for the project came from freshman Ethan Roach, and Scullin describes his own role as basically staying out of the way.
"To be perfectly honest, a lot of this is self-directed," Scullin said. "I'll guide them. ... But my only requirement is if anyone wants to show up, you have to welcome them. Then we just have to coordinate, divvy up the work and have a game plan for the day.
"They also have to make sure they're completing their academic work. [Through the project], they learn how to collaborate and work together so no one else dominates. Otherwise, I just hang out."
The students appeared to follow Scullin's limited directions to the letter, delegating tasks and methodically attacking the complex construction.
Buying a printer "kit" instead of a functioning machine, allowed the group to learn more than just how to use one, Scullin said.
That dovetails with his approach to introducing technology in the classroom. In the past, he has had students work with Google's X-ray Goggles tool that gives users a look at the computer code that drives websites. Scullin also utilizes Mozilla's Popcorn, a tool that lets students build multimedia presentations.
The 3-D printer will stimulate students' interest in computer-aided design software that they will use to create objects that the Printrbot will reproduce using polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic.
Scullin expects even more students to get involved with the printer once it is up and running.
"It all happened organically," he said. "The word is getting out. A teacher brought another kid to my class just yesterday. There's definitely an interest.
"It's inquiry-based, interest-driven. It's letting their own energy fuel the process."
Roach already can see the day coming when his energy will find a new outlet.
"I want to make it, work with it a little bit and then move on to the next project," he said.