How can the Printerbot Simple Metal be used in the classroom? After all, I am a teacher and the whole point of getting the machine in the first place was not to make enough trinkets to rival a box of Kinder Surprise

kinder surprise.jpg


rather it was to have a lasting impact on the minds of the future....


On short notice, for three 45 minute lessons over the span of a week this was the best I could do:



For those interested in taking a look at the lesson plan I wrote click--> here.




So the story behind these mysterious objects and the lessons which spawned them is that I paced through my 6th grade technology units much faster than expected; this is class where I have been fortunate enough to develop the content from the ground up. Now that I had a 3D printer I felt it was time to make a power move and integrate it into my classroom.


The justification behind using the 3D printer in class is as follows:


Computer aided design (CAD) is an important skill and a mode of creation students should be introduced to early on. If not taught for some cognitive gain, perhaps as an ability to visualize forms in a digitized context, lessons can be for introducing a tools used in professions such as architecture, industrial engineering and contemporary art. On a side note, art may be being the most undervalued, dumbed down form of education in today's American school systems.

finger painting.jpg



Working with CAD reinforces the "iterative process" specifically, drawings are open to adaptation and recreation due to their format being digital and thus, flexible when reworked.


Creative thinking, what I define as lateral thinking, is a cognitive skill I try and incorporate into all of the classes. By designing a project based lesson with a relatively open interpretation a multiplicity of results can be produced. Students are then able to compare their work to each other in an process used for understanding alternative perspectives and the multiplicity of solutions. For me this was based on the problem statement: "how do you design a creative pencil holder?" Similarly, there are more ways to come to an answer like how do you add 2 numbers to equal 10? In the end, there must also be alternative answers to questions like how do we fuel our automobiles when fossil fuels run out? Maybe now you can see the importance of cultivating creative thinking skills in the modern classroom.


electric cars.jpg


The printing of an object in class creates an "artifact" which can be taken home and reflected upon. This is significant event because a memento from the classroom sparks recall later on. Furthermore, after years this spark may generate novel interpretations and ideas. Therefore, according to learning theories the artifact remains with the learner along the path for the crystallization of knowledge; in parallel with the maturity a learner gains with lived experience.


In general, my lesson was for students to design a creative pencil holder like the one I made called "Pencil Dream":



Within the constraints of 40 mm by 40 mm I tried to design a pencil holder which could hold a pencil in more than one way. The same task was given to my students who were tasked with designing their own pencil holders.


Oftentimes, they did not need the full dimensions of 40x40mm or they even extended their designs outside of the project constraints. This was okay though, because the dimensional constraints were to get them thinking about design and not limit their process. After all, if you drive a Ferrari there are times when I do hope you'll break the speed limit.


An important note is before I enacted the lesson plan posted above; I demonstrated how to draw some shapes in Sketchup on a projector. Right afterwards students went and designed their creative pencil holders with traditional pen, pencils and rulers; old school style. I thought this would provide a nice comparison regarding the design process;the affordance and constraints of pen and paper vs mouse and computer. Those who wish to take on my lesson in their own classroom may want to set time aside to discuss this difference as a way to conclude the unit.


Here is an example of what one of my students made:



The above model is different from what I would have initially expected but this is exactly the point! These days kids are so capable and prior to this activity I thought Sketchup would be too technical for 6th graders. How wrong I was; just examine the complexity of some of the objects they designed in the video at the beginning of this blog. Albeit some of these objects look like they were designed by Sponge Bob himself....

sponge bob.jpg


As my 3D printing lessons came to a close I’ll admit that the class was getting harder to manage. The reason, I think, is that the creative pencil holder project was too easy for them to complete and too open ended to push them to refine a model any longer than 20 minutes. Teachers who use a 3D printer in the class must strike a balance between articulating an activity which is challenging and will motivate students to persist through learning the CAD software while at the same time not frustrating them with an inability to see progress in their work.


For my high school classes next year I've thought about having my students collaboratively design a chess set (but a review of will indicate that chess sets are old news). Or maybe, replicate a picture of an animal they like in some type of "novel" geometry. The other day I spent 2 hours designing a beetle in Sketchup only to have my progress lost when the software unexpectedly closed due to an error; unfortunately I had not saved my work


Another use for a 3D printer is making school "necessities." This year I coached a 3rd and 4th grade lacrosse team and we barely won any matches but hey, at this age everyone's a winner and everyone deserves a trophy (and apparently a pizza party). If only it were the same during my experience with dating . So for our lacrosse banquet I 3D printed an army of mini trophies; that printer was running day and night to produce these gems: scaled down cougar figurines I found on on top of a pedestal (in purple) which I drew in Sketchup-



Like I said, printing 17 of these things took a long time and up until the day of our awards ceremony I was still churning out models like a Swatch factory. The same goes for what my 6th grade class made; 16 of their models took the printer 3 days running day and night.


Was it worth it?


In my opinion yes, because as we all gathered around a large classroom table as I opened a box with all of their creative pencil holders the look of anticipation and awe was truly the cutting edge of education. It was a moment when I looked into the future; where technology, arts and project based learning collided so that students implicitly learned something about geometry, design and themselves.



To read the blog posts leading up to this one click the links:


Intro: Reaping the Rewards/3D printing with the Printerbot Simple Metal


Reaping the Rewards: Issues with the Printerbot Simple Metal


Reaping the Rewards: Successful 3D Prints