Bringing Students' Ideas to Life with 3D Printing

Our 3-D printer hard at work!
Our school Media Center Makerspace has created STEAM learning opportunities for students in many new and exciting ways. Now that we are in the second year of the Makerspace, there have been many teachers who have been eager to have me help them incorporate Makerspace learning activities into their curriculum. Whether creating MakerEd opportunities within their lessons, or having me come in and teach students skills that involve coding, creating with the Makey Makeys, and more, it has provided great opportunities to make sure that the Makerspace items and concepts are useful not just to individual or small groups of students in the Media Center, but also to classes full of students.

With this in mind, the newest addition to our Makerspace has by far been the most exciting! That is the addition of our 3D printer. Adding a 3D printer did not come without its own learning challenges. Luckily, our school has an amazing technology assistant who helped me with researching how to setup, align, load the filament, and troubleshoot the 3D printer as we got started.

Our next step was to figure out how to make our own designs. We initially planned to have some CAD software downloaded on a couple of the Media Center computers and realized it may be difficult to have enough time to teach a great number of students how to use that software, thus limiting the reach that the printer could have. Luckily, a little more research led me to an awesome website called Tinkercad. Tinkercad uses CAD design to allow users to combine shapes, letters, numbers, and more to create 3-D designs. Even better news- it's a web-based program that we can access on any computer in the school. This meant that the program could be accessible to students throughout the school-making it even easier to get more of our students designing and printing!

After a few test runs using Tinkercad and the 3D printer with some eager students in the Makerspace, we were ready to roll. The type of 3D printer we have does have some limitations, and those test runs were very valuable to help us learn what some of those limitations were.

Spongebob and a Rocket
BB-8 being printed
Luckily I work in a school where innovation and creation through Making are valued. Many of our teachers have embraced the school Makerspace or Maker Ed concepts in great ways that allow students to be creators while meeting curricular goals of the class. If all schools valued Media Centers and the Maker Movement in this way, it would be pretty incredible to see just how creative all students can really be. I've now had three classes successfully create designs and print on the 3-D printer. For the first two classes, the sky was the limit when it came to design. Students were told to design what ever they wanted (within size and printer limitation guidelines), and they would vote on two to print. Printing does take a lot of time and filament, so we found this to be the most effective way to have that class participate, especially with the end of the semester just days away. We had everything from BB-8 from Star Wars, to Spongebob, to a very detailed rocket ship, and so much more! Students were very creative with their designs and really did a great job learning how to create designs using the program. With the next class that I worked with, a class of 6th graders, students had to tie their Tinkercad designs to an item that represented one of their classes. The designs were creative, and many quite detailed, especially considering it was their first time using the program. In this class we printed six different designs and gave students the option to make more on their own time.

BB-8 from Star Wars
 Maybe even better then hearing students' excitement while they created their designs on the computer, was hearing their enthusiasm the first time they saw the printer running.  Most of them had never seen a 3-D printer before, so the questions and exclamations they had during that first print are a great example of how exciting learning and creating can be.

The initial rollout of our 3-D printer has had its challenges, but all of the time put in to learning how to make it work best for our students has been totally worth it. Throughout the year, I am planning to work with even more teachers to help them find great ways to use 3D printing as a way to enhance their curriculum and continue to work with students in our Media Center Makerspace to help them see their designs and ideas come to life!

6th Grade Student Creations!
If you are interested in adding a 3D printer to your school or Media Center Makerspace, the time put into it can really be worth it to our students. After seeing his design printed, one student said to me "Really? I made this? And I get to keep it? This is so cool!" Since then, I've found him teaching other students to use Tinkercad in their free time, showing off his creation, and discussing design ideas with other students. More and more students have started to jump on Tinkercad in the Media Center on their own time, and many will come to me and show me what they have worked on all night. Given the time, materials, and resources, it is incredible what our students can create!

If you are looking for ideas for what your students can design with a 3D printer, check out my 3D Printer Design Task Cards

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