Teaching with 3d Printing

3d printing has been around for a few years and is now picking up steam in popularity and usage. This is attributed to the lower costs of easy-to-use 3d printers as well as more people realizing they can tackle 3d printing on their own.

Schools are also incorporating 3d printing at a greater rate than in the past. As teachers realize that they can use this innovative field to teach children effectively, they look to cost effective solutions for their schools.

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do.

by Henry Ford

Tackling 3d printing has a learning curve, but the major obstacle is just making the decision to jump in and try it. We use 3d printing for kids to exercise their minds and create. When this happens, kids use their logic and problem solving skills naturally. We know that there are exceptions. Not all kids like to create. Not all kids like to think and work through problems. However, the vast majority are motivated to work through all obstacles in order to create something tangible and real. Once that first projects comes out of the printer, every kid works much harder to get their project completed.

Teach Logic and Reasoning Through 3d Printing

Equipment Needed

We use FlashForge's Creator Pro for our 3d printing. Currently, we operate 2 machines. This machine was chosen based on reviews and prices. One of the nice features of this printer is the fact it has dual extruders. This means it can print with 2 different colors without having to stop and switch them out. It also has a heated print bed, allowing for greater flexibility in what you can print. The cost was huge for us as we had a limited initial budget. The MakerBot we looked at was 3x the cost of the Creator Pro. We've used it for 2 years and the only problems were issues I caused. I was able to watch a YouTube video to fix everything. Right now, Amazon is offering the Creator Pro for $800 (we paid $900 when we bought ours).

Our printer came with a 3d print software. I found it to be difficult to understand. After researching, I found Simplify3d. It's extremely easy to use and the cost is around $150. I know I'm not using all it's capable of doing, but I'm doing what I need to print projects. To get up and running was quick and easy. After the kids design their work, I export the ".stl" files and import them into Simplfy3d. I set whether I want "rafts" and "supports," then I save it to the SD card. I put the SD card in the printer and it starts doing what it's supposed to do.

The putty knife is helpful in removing projects from the print table. Some aren't thick enough to work well. I use a thicker putty knife to pull the models up. You can experiment with different tools if you want, but you'll definitely need something.

Filament is available from many places. You also have to look into the different types. The main filament types are ABS and PLA. I've found PLA easier to work with, but I don't have extensive experience with ABS. ABS is supposed to be more pliant, but I thought it smelled stronger when printing and I thought it was harder to work with. It's really up to your preference. There's a lot of research on the web about it. Spools vary in price from around $18 to upwards of $50 a spool. I don't know how much you'd go through because we don't know how often kids will be printing yet. A rule of thumb is around 10 spools for 1,000 kids. We are around that enrollment, although they're not all printing. We have only been through about 7 spools now in a year and a half. It's picking up now so we'll start using more. We use various brands, but I liked the Hatchbox filament. I didn't seem to have many issues with it. We're using Ziro now, because I didn't find the Hatchbox when I was ordering. I've had a few issues with it being brittle quickly and spools that are tangled. These could be due to errors on my part, but I didn't notcie them with the Hatchbox spools.

How to teach with 3d printing

We present a problem to the kids and they have to develop a solution. This works well for people who have used MakerSpaces in the past. For those that haven't, start simply.

The first step is to set up a Tinkercad account. We use one account for each grade level. This keeps all of the projects in one spot. Does it get confusing? Yes, but the fact that they're all together outweighs the issues. Tinkercad is free to use and the kids pick up on it quickly.

Our first unit with the younger kids was to examine the "Pushes and Pulls" forces unit. The kids researched what the forces were, then they had to develop a tool that would push or pull a ball. Most of the projects were very basic pushing tools, but some blew me away with how they would work.

The projects usually take around 3-4 hours to print each, so there was some time in between creation and final product. I had the kids create a video so they could present what they knew about forces, then they added a demonstration once their project printed.

As was stated above, the process of designing innately incorporates problem solving and logic. The kids have to think through how parts connect and how it will function once printed.

For older kids, we have a little more flexibility. The projects can be more complicated. We've designed rockets for what they believe will be most aerodynamic. We've had them design tools. Kids have created desk organizers. The best projects are real world problems. Trial and error takes some time, but it's really effective to get them to think logically. Having the kids develp a way for piece to fit together is powerful.

There's more to the 3d printing and most of it is trial and error in itself. It's worth it.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line for any help or advice!