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Published April 25, 2019 | Multidisciplinary

Students in charge of a 3D printer as part of an interdisciplinary project in Natural Sciences

This Real Life Story was first published in French.

As part of an interdisciplinary learning activity, we decided to make our Natural Sciences students experience a true digital conception and manufacture project. The activity, spanning 2 semesters, involved experts outside of the domain of education whose interventions sought to stimulate the creativity of the students, all the while accentuating the realistic character of the project.

Genesis of the project

In the spring of 2016, Collège Laflèche acquired its first 3D printer, which was made available to students of the Natural Sciences program. As soon as winter 2017, students who were taking the Chemistry of Solutions course with Martin and the Mechanics course with Mylène in parallel realized a first interdisciplinary project that involved 3D conception and printing.

As early as spring 2017, enthusiastic about the digital and convinced by the results of the winter 2017 project, Collège Laflèche invested in the development of a digital creation space aimed at the whole student community: the Lab321 - digital manufacture workshop.

Lab321 – Digital manufacture workshop

Motivated all at once by the enthusiasm of our student, the ambient digital wave, as well as the investments of our organization, we proposed to the students of the next cohort a new, larger project, for which we received financial support from the NovaScience program. The project involved 2 distinct phases.

Phase 1 - Conception and manufacture of a digital conductometer

For some years, Martin had been realizing with his Chemistry of Solutions students a small project where they had to conceive a conductometer (a device that is used to measure the conductivity of electrolyte solutions). They had to use “ordinary” materials to create their device (a battery, an LED light, different conductors that served as electrodes, etc.).

With the arrival of 3D printers at the college, the project experienced a significant technological advance. In winter 2018, we invited our students to conceive the plastic case of their conductometer by themselves, to print it, and to integrate the electronic parts necessary to making it work.

3D conception and assembly of the circuit of the conductometer

Conductometers created by the students in winter 2018

Through this project, our ambition was also to make the students experience realistic learning situations that resemble the everyday challenges that the workers of the engineering and technology sectors must face. To help ourselves, we called on external resources in order to support our students in their creative process:

  • Alexis Bilodeau, president and engineer at the Novo firm, came to give our students a seminar on managing innovation. He explained, among other things, that the design of a new product is done through numerous feedback loops: the creator must constantly talk with his client to adjust his proposition to this latter’s needs, as fast as possible.
  • Fédéric Lajeunesse, artist and designer, offered a conference on the creative process and on the basic notions of design. He also interacted with the students to stimulate them during the conception phase of their project.

At the beginning of the semester, we submitted technical specifications to the students to present the requirements and the correction criteria for the project, associated with our respective course. Five laboratoratory sessions of each course were dedicated to the realization of the project for a total of 20% of the final mark of each course.

Thanks to the 3D printer, the contribution of external resources and the integration of notions linked with entrepreneurship, innovation, and creative thinking, the project is much more complete than before.

Phase 2 - Conception of the lighting system of a public park

In fall of 2018, in the Electricity and Magnetism course, the same students had to create a durable lighting system for a public park of Trois-Rivières, the Champlain Park.

For that project, we worked in partnership with the City of Trois-Rivières. This latter simulated, especially for our students, a request for proposals for the replacing of the lighting system of the park. A resource of the city, specialized in durable development, also offered a short training to our students in the form of a master class.

The students then had to produce a 3D printed electrified model presenting their lighting prototype.

Conception and assembly of the electrical circuit of the model

Some of the models realized in the fall of 2018

Once again, valuable partners joined the project:

  • Dominic Thibeault, chief of the environment division at the City of Trois-Rivière, not only offered support regarding durable development, but also played the role of the client throughout the project in order for the students to have their concepts approved by him.
  • Daniel Mimeault, engineer and mechanical and electrical coordinator for the City of Trois-Rivières, offered 2 trainings on urban lighting.
  • Frédéric Lajeunesse came back to meet students and talk about current trends in the domain of lighting in public areas.
  • Philippe Kamden, manager of the organisational strategy and of the user experience at Novo, came to help students to define the types of users of the Champlain Park and their needs in lighting.

During their project, the student had to go to the Champlain Park to interact with the real users of the stie. Progressively, they were brought to think about their expectations and the way that they were going to adapt their prototype to meet those. For example, the students had to conceive lights that provided enough lighting for citizens to feel safe without blinding the people that lived near the park in the process. With durable development in mind, they also had to minimise light pollution and save energy.

In the month of november 2018, towards the end of the phase 2 of the project, the students presented their model in front of a jury made of different partners and teachers. In only 4 minutes, each team had to explain the advantages of their creation and thus convince the jury of the superiority of their proposal.

Five laboratory sessions as well as 2 hours of class were dedicated to the phase 2 of the project for a total of 20% of the final mark of the Electricity and Magnetism course.

How is it possible?

At the presentations that we have done about our project in colloquiums, teachers are often impressed by the speed with which the whole activity was put in place. Beyond the interests and motivation of the involved parties, it is necessary to mention that the small size of our establishment facilitates the collaboration required for such a realization. It is also important to highlight the constant support demonstrated by our college’s administrative team.

On the pedagogical plan, we are often asked how we manage to realize such a project in our course all the while “covering all of the contents”. Certainly, it is impossible to do as many “classic” laboratories if 5 of our 15 sessions are dedicated to the project. Nevertheless, we are convinced that this time investment is worth it. We are training the professionals of tomorrow and, thanks to projects such as ours, they will be able to develop their creativity, their digital competencies, their entrepreneurial spirit and their social consciousness; some important aspects which are almost not covered in traditional Natural Sciences courses.

Gobally, students adhere to this type of approach where they quickly become the actors of their learning. We are even surprised to see how much time and energy they spend perfecting their creation. Moreover, this kind of project represents one of the few opportunities to showcase resourceful students with good manual abilities. They can finally show their classmates what they can do! There is obviously something to gain, we believe, in widening the range of abilities to develop all the while making the students more active, more responsible, and more autonomous in their learning process.

We will repeat the experience for sure!

About the Authors

Martin Lepage Chemistry teacher at the college level for over 20 years, Martin Lepage first worked in scientific research and taught at the high school level. He holds a specialized bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in chemistry as well as a certificate in pedagogy. He is interested in education related to the environment, interdisciplinarity, and in the epistemology of sciences.

Mylène Robitaille She has taught physics since 2002 in the pre-university and technical sectors. As she holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering, Mylène particularly likes to adopt a fieldwork approach in her teaching of physics. She considers that this approach gives more sense to the teachings and that it prepares students well to integrate more abstract concepts. Since fall 2017, Mylène has also been acting as a project manager at the Lab321 of Collège Laflèche.

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