Yesterday, I took my girls on a field tip that totally blew my mind.  

We went to a 3-D printing lab at James Madison University. This type of technology is fascinating, but I had seen 3-D printers in use before and it's not what had my mind reeling. It was watching a group of elementary students embrace this type of innovation and fully imagine it as part of their future.

Let me give you a little more background.

James Madison University (JMU), located in nearby Harrisonburg, Va., has what they call a 3-SPACE classroom. Like many other campuses around the country, JMU offers college-level classes to engineering majors on 3-D printing. But unlike other college campuses, JMU also makes this technology available to students from other majors. So biology majors might learn how to design a new piece of equipment to use in the field. Or a music major might design a new tool to care for an instrument.

Another thing that makes JMU's 3-SPACE classroom unique is that they open it up to field trips such as the one my girls went on yesterday, so that elementary students can try their hand at designing something on a computer and then seeing it come to life in the lab. And boy did these kids ever embrace the opportunity!

I knew we were in for something awesome even before we got to the lab. Over the weekend, we were sent a tutorial about how to use Tinkercad, a free, computer-aided design — or CAD- program — that the girls would be using to design their gadgets. It seemed simple enough, but I was intimidated. But the girls were not. My 8-year-old immediately started feeling her way around the program, manipulating shapes and stacking objects until she had created a design all her own. The 11-year-old was equally savvy.

And they weren't the only ones. When we got the the 3-SPACE lab, we met up with a whole classroom filled with kids who were completely uninhibited about where this technology could take them. Some designed toys, others made objects they could use to hold their stuff, while one young kid even designed a pocket-sized version of the Starship Enterprise.

And when they learned about the different ways that 3-D-printers are being used now and the ideas that some see for their future, they had no trouble envisioning a world where clothes, homes, and even space labs are all created using 3-D printing — where they will have 3-D printers in their homes that can be used to create useful and fun objects whenever they need them. Where 3-D printing could be used to more easily recycle old plastic and make it into something new. And where 3-D printers could be used to help clean up pollution and create a better world.

And that just blows my mind.

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