Students at Zia Middle School (ZMS) have begun bringing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) concepts to life by designing and creating 3D-printed objects using the school’s newly-installed 3D printers. The printers are part of a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, a project-based curriculum designed to help students explore career paths, engage in problem solving and process thinking, develop technical knowledge and skills, and build communication skills, according to the PTLW website.

3d Objects
Several 3D-printed models are displayed above Zia Middle School’s newly-installed 3D printers.

“The printers provide a fun, engaging way for the students to use their STEM knowledge to design and create a real-world product,” said Adrian Gaytan, PLTW Technology Lab teacher at ZMS. “Since the students get to use some of the same technology many college students are using, it helps get the students excited and creates a connection to higher education institutions.”

Earlier this year, after the school purchased the printers, school officials collaborated with the Aggie Innovation Space and arranged for several NMSU students to help install the printers and provide demonstrations for the ZMS students.

SketchUp Model
Adrian Gaytan, PLTW Technology Lab teacher at ZMS, checks a student’s 3D model in SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, at Zia Middle School.

“Overall, this program gets the students to understand the reasoning behind many of the concepts they learn throughout the year,” Gaytan said. “Understanding that rationale and seeing that process from start to finish gives them a better understanding of what engineering is all about.”

In addition to learning the basics of 3D printing, students also learn to use SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, which the students use to design, test, and subsequently print their original creations.

3D printing Demo
Veronica Gurrola, Aggie Innovator at the Aggie Innovation Space, gives a demonstration to Zia Middle School students explaining how to load plastic filament into the school’s newly-installed 3D printers.

The Aggie Innovation Space (AIS) is a student-managed facility on the New Mexico State University Campus which offers access to a variety of innovative technologies such as 3D printers, sensors and programmable development boards, robotics kits, extensive multi-disciplinary software, and low-resolution prototype materials, according to the AIS website. Equipment, materials and consumable supplies available in the Innovation Space were acquired through funding from Intel Corporation and the NMSU President’s Performance funds.

PLTW is a nonprofit organization founded in 1997, which initially began as a high school engineering program and grew into a comprehensive K-12 program offering pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, according to the PTLW website.

-LCPS Communications Coordinator Paul Dahlgren,, (575) 527-5808