Bringing 3D Printing to the Classroom
If you had asked me in the beginning of the school year about a 3D printing workspace I would have replied, “I’m so excited to integrate this wonderful technology into my classroom! And it seems like such a great fit and so easy!” Now that it is January in the height of the school year, I would say the same except for the easy part. Don’t get me wrong, the rewards far outweigh the frustrations, and it can be so easy with the right support. First and foremost, I am still so excited to be 3D printing and it is the perfect fit for my engineering classes. Fortunately, helping me to get started was my newly befriended colleague, Shawn Grimes, Director of Technology for the Digital Harbor Foundation. With that said, I highly recommend setting up a 3D printing workspace in your engineering/design class, but make sure you do it right by getting the support that your students deserve. The following are my observations and reflections to guide anyone interested in starting a 3D printing workspace for students.
Conception and Inspiration
I first witnessed 3D printing live in action at the Common Ground 2014 Conference as presented by Shawn Grimes. I was immediately drawn to the possibilities in my classroom after having seen what students at the Digital Harbor Foundation had accomplished. Shawn also provided a wealth of information for getting started, and he also addressed current events and misconceptions related to 3D printing. After viewing this presentation, I knew I had to print something myself as soon as possible. So I met with my department chair at Catonsville High School and started brainstorming ideas. Luckily we already had an existing network with the Community College of Baltimore County at Catonsville. The CCBC Fab Lab has a well-established maker space with several 3D printers. They immediately welcomed me and over the summer I walked in with a file for a golf tee that I had designed, and within 20 minutes the golf tee was printed.
Acquiring a 3D Printer
I knew I had get a 3D printer for my classroom, but I didn’t know how exactly how to pay for it. I soon found Donors Choose, a crowdsourcing website for teachers who need fundraising dollars for school supplies. The “3D Printers for Students” project was initiated at the beginning of August, and during the first week of school, the 3D printer was shipped to my school. The support I received from technology enthusiasts and education advocates was overwhelming. My efforts included an extensive write-up on Donors Choose, a moderate campaign on social media, and commitment to thank you packages after receiving the 3D printer.
Getting Up and Running
Once again I am indebted to Shawn Grimes for acting as resident expert. He recommended several options for 3D printers as well as an easy to use design software and printing software. Before going further, please understand that you need one software program to design whatever you want to make, and a second software to “talk” to the 3D printer in order to print it. More on that later.
I decided to get a Printrbot Simple for $600, a solid bargain in the 3D printing market, and based upon my experience since the beginning of the school year, a solid printer too.
For design software, I use several based upon the intention. Tinkercad is a free, web-based program, and by far the easiest to use without sacrificing advanced capabilities. My student computers did not support the graphics requirements of Tinkercad, so I began using Google Sketchup. Google Sketchup is a free program that must be downloaded on the computers. It contains many advanced features, but can be a hassle if getting software permissions in your district. I then found a program called Design Something. This is a Chrome browser app, so if your district supports the Chrome browser, access is simple. Design Something is easy to use and exports STL files ready for printing.
For printing software I use Matter Control. This is a software that needs to be loaded on any computer that will be connected to the 3D printer. Within the program an object can be scaled larger or smaller and rotated, but that is about the extent of possible editing. The purpose of Matter Control is to digitally “slice” the object in layers and then feed that information to the 3D printer. When I first started 3D printing with Matter Control my objects were uneven at best, and lifting up off the print bed. Guess who had the best printer configuration settings in town, that’s right, Shawn. After loading the file he sent me, I was in business. That day I printed my first smiley face cell phone case.
Projects, Curriculum Integration, and the Future
Our first planned project for 3D printing a model was the bridge from our structures unit. Google Sketchup files did not convert the bridge files for 3D printing very well, so I had to go back to the drawing board. I found that making flat objects turned out pretty well, and from there I needed to apply the concepts from our class. We ended up using the principles of design to create winter themed ornaments, which became the first project successfully 3D printed.
I still wanted a better program with simple geometric shapes preloaded, and better results for converting files to be 3D printed. I found Design Something, which is an app that works on the Chrome Browser. To access Design Something open Chrome, right-click in the space below the url and check “Show Apps Shortcut”, click on “Apps”, click the “Web Store” in the bottom right corner, search for “Design Something”, and then click “+ Free”. Design Something will now appear when you click again on “Apps” as an icon titled “3D”.
With the correct introduction, Design Something seems much more accessible for my students. Now they are in the midst of designing dune buggies with the program. The plan is to 3D print the model, investigate design flaws, redesign, and then build the dune buggy from wood. This activity is based upon the Problem Solving Method which is employed in various ways, but my classes follow these steps:
1. Identify the Problem - Rephrase the problem with clarity and correct grammar.
2. Identify Criteria for Success- Identify multiple criteria precisely. Identify measurements and goals that determine success.
3. Research Past Solutions – List multiple resources for research. List prior learning experiences.
4. Brainstorm - List multiple ideas. Explain how the ideas will solve the problem.
5. Pick the Best Solution - Select one promising solution. Explain why the solution will solve the problem.
6. Model or Prototype – Describe how the model or prototype was built. Identify why the model or prototype meets the criteria for success. Sketch the model or prototype.
7. Test and Evaluate the Design – Describe the testing procedure. List preliminary test results. Explain the reasons success or failure.
8. Refine the Design (Adjust Solution If Necessary) – Identify the changes made. Describe how and why the changes will improve the design.
9. Communicate Processes and Results – Identify success or failure. List all of the test results. Compare reasons for possible success and possible failure.
I’ve also test printed a bridge design from Design Something, and with some work it looks promising. Now that I am settling in with a solid process from conception to designing and printing the forward thinking can really begin. Possibilities for future projects that can be written into the curriculum might be keychains, jewelry, headphones cord wrappers, cell phone cases, id card cases, and basically anything else my students can brainstorm. That’s the beauty of 3D printing, you are only limited to your imagination. So if you were to ask me about 3D printing today I would say, “I’m even more excited to build a program around 3D printing because I’ve learned so much, it’s opened my mind to the possibilities.”