Planning for the Future

STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – gets a lot of love these days in educational circles, but Professor of Education George Meadows believes the “E” part of the acronym is due more attention.

George Meadows shares 3D-printer technolog y with public school teachers and students.

George Meadows shares 3D-printer technology with public school teachers and students.

The Shirley Van Epps Waple Professor, who teaches future elementary through high school science teachers, knows that the Virginia Standards of Learning emphasize the traditional sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics. But change is inevitable, and he wants schools, teachers, and the students themselves to be ready.

Traditional sciences have labs, Meadows said. “What does engineering have? It has a makerspace.”

That is, a space where users collaborate to employ and improve 3D printers and their increasingly adept MakerBot offspring.

As a Waple professor, Meadows has devoted time and money toward equipping Fredericksburg-area elementary schools with the fast-evolving technological tools.

He’s built support among teachers, parents, and administrators, but he didn’t have to convince the students themselves.

Kids gravitate to technologies that let them envision objects in virtual space, then give those imagined objects physical shape by heating and extruding plastic.

Meadows understands perfectly – he was captivated by the idea when he first read about it. With colleagues in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, he introduced the concept to UMW three years ago in a space provided by the Simpson Library. Now, the College of Education has its own LearnerSpace on the Stafford campus to foster collaboration among teachers and K-12 students.

“What does engineering have? It has a makerspace.” – George Meadows

From the initial do-it-yourself kit printers, the technology has expanded to include scanners that can re-create objects in 3D, alternative keyboards, and pen-size handheld printers that melt and extrude plastic as fast as a user can think of something to make.

As the technology becomes cheaper, more available, and easier to use, Meadows expects other area schools to dedicate space and instructional time to this most modern example of engineering. And he’s making sure teachers educated at UMW will be ready to lead the charge.