Kyle Altmann, associate professor of physics, shares how he uses the Maker Hub to teach his students the importance of making in and out of the classroom.
In some of Elon’s classrooms, students and instructors are expanding their roles and becoming creators using the university's two Maker Hubs on campus.
Kyle Altmann, associate professor of physics, is one such instructor who advocates for creating in the classroom. Altmann frequents the Maker Space and its 3D printers to engineer tools for his students.
“The Maker Hub opens up opportunities to do whatever you can imagine you can do. If you can design it, you can work with it,” says Altmann. “A second aspect to it is that a lot of science equipment is ridiculously expensive. Sometimes we can 3D print something similar for a fraction of the cost if we design it ourselves.”
In the Maker Hub, Altmann has found a wealth of ways to incorporate 3D printing into the classroom. He is currently investigating the possibility of printing models to further his research on magnetism. Altmann’s ongoing project involves creating a model of the atomic force microscope, which would allow the user to look at individual atoms. While the instrument itself might be too advanced for first-year science students, Altmann hopes to design a 3D printed model that would be more accessible to those just beginning their studies.
Altmann learns by doing and prefers to fill courses with projects and hands-on experiments. He doesn't want students to associate class with unenjoyable book work or lecture. Altmann uses the 3D printer to design gadgets that supplement more exciting and interactive lab work.
For one practical assignment, Altmann presented students with miniature plastic vehicles, resembling standard sedans, and an elliptical track on which to run them. He tasked them with experimenting with how these carts could brake and slow down.
“I designed an end-cap which goes on the end of the cart and it holds magnets,” Altmann explains. “It holds up to four that they can insert. When you run a cart on the track after filling it with magnets, it slows down dramatically. Then, it’s up to the students to figure out how and why that was the case.”
The 3D-printed end-cap also gave students the opportunity to question and discover. Each lab group tried loading the end-cap with different magnets in varying quantities. Then, they measured the impact of their choices on the cart’s speed. Altmann was pleased with the way the end-caps worked; eighteen groups of students used them to complete slightly different experiments last semester.
More recently, Altmann used the Hub tools in an experiment that measured the force of electricity. During the lab, students attempted to measure the force between two metal sheets.
“We already had a scale to measure the force very accurately and a caliper – a device to measure the separation very accurately,” says Altmann.
3D printing then allowed Altmann to design an apparatus that would hold the scale and the calipers, so that force and separation between two magnets could be measured efficiently and simultaneously.
Altmann sees the Maker Hub and the tools within it becoming an integral part of higher education. In the future, he sees students taking an active role in creating for the classroom.
“I do things for labs and experiments, but I haven’t yet assigned students to go in and take ownership of that,” Altmann says. “I’ve always loved the process of being able to plan something out and then having it take shape. You know, tell the machine, ‘make this for me,’ and then boom, it appears. I think that’s a great thing for students to experience too.”