New lab, tech fostering innovation at Dartmouth High School

Jan 23, 2019

Dartmouth High School students are cutting into digital cadavers, discovering molecules in 3D, and building elaborate robots with new cutting-edge technology.

The high school’s new Innovation Lab, funded through a $500,000 grant, is now in use by students after months of planning and purchasing of high-tech tools. The lab is housed in a former conference room behind the library, and stocked with 3D printers, tools, and space for collaboration.

The lab only recently opened, but anatomy and physiology teachers Arlyn Bottcher and Dorann Cohen have already introduced their students to Carl. He is one of four cadavers programmed into an Anatomage table.

The Anatomage is a gurney-sized touch-screen tablet built into a large table, which allows students to dissect and analyze 3D human cadavers.

Carl is one of four cadavers built into the system, modeled by taking 3D photographs of the real body of a Texas death row inmate. With the press of a button, the simulation switches from slicing to internal models of skeletal, muscle, and nerve structures.

New equipment was also purchased for several classrooms at Dartmouth High. The engineering department installed new plasma cutters to cut through metal, laser cutters, and computer-controlled CNC machines which students are using to design objects on a computer and machine-carve them.

“It’s workforce development skills in computer-integrated manufacturing,” said engineering teacher Jeff Martin. “If you’re not going to college you can have a knowledge of design and cutting and machining operations. It gives another element to the students at Dartmouth High School.”

Student Alex Vieira built new tables for the innovation lab using the CNC machine. It was a process that took several tries to get right.

In the lab, 3D printers hummed away producing plastic tools designed by students using CAD programs. Students are not only using the 3D printers to learn, but also to solve real-world problems. In Dr. Peter Bangs’ biotechnology class, for example, students designed tool holders, rotating cylinders, and other tools after discovering a need for them in the classroom.

Bangs’ lab received zSpace computers. The computers include 3D glasses and a pen which allows students to interact with molecules and chemical reactions virtually.

“When you can look at things in 3D, it's so much better than really anyone can explain it,” Bangs said. “The kids get so engaged in these things.”

The tech was made possible by the $500,000 grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Development Board, which was awarded to the district in 2017. Superintendent Bonny Gifford applied for it at a time when the district was focusing on developing pathways to careers outside of the traditional four-year college degree.

“We wanted to provide experiences for kids that didn’t have their mind made up, who maybe never knew that a two-year degree at BCC or a tech school could provide them with a great career, coming out making some really darn good money,” Gifford said.

Once the district received the grant, Gifford and Dartmouth High Principal Ross Thibault reached out to teachers to determine exactly how to best use the funds. They approached teachers to ask what they wanted to do, and what they needed to do it.

When the tech was purchased, the district’s in-house maintenance staff took over an old conference room and storage area behind the high school library, transforming it into the innovation lab.

While the lab is now open to students, it is nowhere near complete. Thibault and GIfford both agreed it will be a transformative project, and is just the beginning.