Tis the Season . . . For Chris Hartfield!

I don’t want to overstate it. But I DARE you to find someone who has a negative word to say about Chris Hartfield. Like triple dog dare you.  The guy has been our tech-savior for the past 13 years and counting.  He undoubtedly gets the brunt of our most stressful moments.  And yet somehow he absorbs all of our anxiety-energy and gives us back a peaceful vibe and a mended iPad, all at once.  See?  Magic. 

So when Zander Paul Rust comes home chattering about 3D printing and the long waitlist, and when Lucy Rust says “mom- hey mom- check out these cool octopus thing” while you walk together on your daily “it’s 7:30 and we just got to school and need to fill up water bottles and mom needs coffee” walk, you might have a sneaking suspicion that Chris has something to do with it.  You might be right.

I got a chance to sit down with him to hear about the mostly-middle-school-craze that is currently 3D printing.  But truth be told, I also just wanted a chance to interview the legend that is Chris.  Consider it my holiday gift to you.  You’re welcome.  

His first words were that he prefers being behind the scenes and isn’t good at “this kind of stuff.” But I’m not so sure. Chris has a way of skipping all the noise and chatter and getting to the substance.  

Chris first knew he was into tech back when he was 8-9 years old: “My mom took me over to some guy’s house that was selling computers and he showed me how to do some things on that . . . it kinda took off from there.” He was initially hired at SA’s just to repair computers, but he was so overarchingly good at troubleshooting a range of issues that his job evenutally evolved to the mix of things he is to all of us today.  So what’s a day in the life like now? Chris explains:

“I show up and make sure everything is actually functioning in the network.  I then get the 3D printers going and ready for the next job. After that I fix the computers when they are broken and deal with the kids as they have problems.  Every day is different; you never know what’s going to happen!  I just like fixing stuff.  It feels good to solve problems.I just like fixing problems. That’s pretty much all I do.”

Problems make my skin crawl.  Like the unexpected, uncontrollable gives me the heeby jeebies.  I never liked physical puzzles.  I like sure things.  Chris is an enigma to me, and kinda what I want to be when I grow up. But I digress . . . 

So what IS the scoop on the strange things that have been populating our north campus library and the lines of middle school students that have been forming?  We’ve had 3D printers at both campuses for ages as I understood it, but, like most schools I know of who purchased this equipment when it was super expensive and super-trendy, we hadn’t found a valuable way to really integrate it into the curriculum or get kids or teachers pumped up about using them.  Enter Chris Hartfield. He explains: 

Probably a year ago we got a couple of 3D printers we started using at Lower School. Some stuff happened so we never got into actually using them and they sat up here for over a year. This year I decided I want to see them do something so I got them all set up and running printing random stuff out and asking kids if they wanted to print stuff and then word kind of spread that the middle schoolers could print.  . . . Just middle schoolers were getting excited about it because they were seeing stuff they wanted to print.   I was letting them email me and then it started getting too many kids emailing me so I had to make a website, a little form for them to use.  There’s a form and a website tied to it that I created google slides for to track their job.  

He attributes much of the 3D printing contagion to his location in a high traffic area, “not tucked away in a lab area.”  I have a feeling though it also has to do with the approachable soul behind the tech desk.  So what are kids actually getting out of this?

Students utilize Tinkercad to create their objects and after they upload their creations to the form, Chris takes it from there, although he’s “trying to get them ready so a few kids are ready to do their own [to] set it up themselves instead of me.”  This is more than just fun and games, “It’s a CAD program, so they’re having to use math, design stuff, being creative with it, and now making them take their own supports off and having them do it themselves.”  Chris went on to share more benefits: “I thought this could be a starting point for future careers.

3d Printing is actually starting to branch out into all types of industries and they all function in the same way as these little printers. They build houses, cars, medical supplies, and a multitude of other items all with the 3d printer tech.” 

Starting to think about integrating this into your own work with students? Go play with the 3D printing that is all the rage among the fifth and sixth graders.  Chris has already put a link to it in your SA BookMarks on your school-issued device.

The art, theater, and science departments already are implementing or planning on some collaborations.  With BioChem, Chris helped design element puzzle pieces, and he also 3D printed pencil bins that especially fit the desks in the room. He even worked with a friend who makes 3D models to provide Daniel Roers a 3D Andy for a recent global studies trip.

All of these creations don’t just cost time; they cost money. What’s on his current wishlist for Santa this year?  

“I’d like to get a few extra printers to help speed up the print so we aren’t waiting a week at a time for one print  . .   We’re already possibly looking at a higher quality 3D printer- that prints different materials (e.g. rubber tires), materials that are flexible. . . I would [also] like to  get funding for filament!”

If Santa’s generosity correlates with the good we put out into the world, I have a feeling Chris will be receiving a sleigh-full of filament.  As unsung heroes go, he’s solid gold. We are lucky to have him in our village. 

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