Designing & #3DPrinting Cell Models in the Gr. 8 Science Classroom

As part of the Gr. 8 Cells Science Unit, students usually produce a cell model. This year, students learned how to design and create their cell models using our 3D printer with dual extruders. I started the process by teaching students how to dual extrude by creating a simple cell base and adding a nucleus. Each structure was assigned one of the colours in each extruder. Because some of the organelles or structures are difficult to produce using the 3D design software (e.g. mitochondrion, dendrite), students then learned how to bring their 2D drawing of a cell structure into the software (we use Autodesk’s 123D Design). Their drawn structures were then combined with some of the simpler shapes (e.g. nucleus) which they had previously designed using the software. Below are some of the final cell models and the lesson I used to model the process. As a next step, students will be using these skills in geography to create 3D printed terrain maps.

Creating a 3D neuron: Dendrites are detailed and difficult, so the girls added 2 drawings to their axon, which was designed using the software.

Drawing beginning of a neuron

Koby and Lexi with computer

Neuron on the printer

Neuron in front of computer

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Throughout the research and design process, it was evident that students were developing a deeper understanding of their cell and how it related to their chosen topic as they asked questions and revised their project notes. The final step was a class presentation (which included the function of the cell in body systems and their design process).

Trent designing

Jess H and Kirsten

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Lesson: Turning 2D Drawings into 3D Designs Using Dual Extrusion

Thanks to @LisaJDempster for sharing her steps for single extrusion and Ainslie Martin for the drawings.

Part A: 2D to 3D

1. Imagine the final design. Then deconstruct the design into layers. This example shows 3 layers (students used 2 layers in the cell project). The image needs to be solid fill with black marker on white paper.

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2. Convert .jpeg to .svg. Take a picture of each layer (jpg on iphone), save and upload to Online SVG image converter.  Settings: I chose monochrome and sharpen.

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3. Click “convert file”, save as a download or to your Drive. Repeat for the next layers.

4. Open your design software (Auto123D Design).  In the left side (look for the drop down arrow), import SVG as a solid (and scale down) or as a sketch (and extrude). I found it easier to do as a solid, highlight one piece, scale it down to 0.25. Click the remaining pieces and they will do the same. Some students preferred the “sketch” route.

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  Top Layer: Eyes, Freckles, Moustache   

  1. Export as .stl (left side drop down arrow). If asked to “Combine all objects?” – Yes.

Part B: Dual Extrusion

  1. Open Makerware (if using a Makerbot dual extruder), Add file (bottom layer). Scale to size – I chose 50%.
  2. Uncheck the “uniform scale” box. Resize the height by moving the Z axis down (print time becomes longer with increased mm).
  3. Add the middle, then the top layer.
  4. Final step – choose the dual extrusion by choosing Object (bottom left icon). Make the bottom and top layer the same colour, middle the alternative. And print!


final med

The Student-Created anchor chart posted in the classroom:

Things to Remember:

  • Drawings must be solid black on white paper
  • Make sure your picture is just of your drawing (no other markings, desk showing)
  • Email drawings as small (not original size)
  • Import svg as a solid (not sketch) in 123D Design
  • Don’t resize in 123D because it freezes, do it in Makerware
  • Don’t forget in 123D to export as stl

Below, Peter and Ryan experiment, using their phones (or mine) to take pictures of their simple designs, which they convert to 3D. This “play time” is an important step before moving into creating a replica of a 3D cell model. Over 70 students with various learning needs from three typical grade 8 classrooms, completed this project either alone or with a partner of their choice.

Peter med

Cell models, terrain maps, art…. I’m eager to hear other directions you envision this design process being used for in the classroom. Please leave an idea or suggestion.

Postscript: The mother of one of my student’s pulled me aside just before Christmas break, saying she had to thank me for something. She then told me that her son asked for a 3D printer for Christmas (and there are low cost ones out there for this purpose). I didn’t previously consider this student as tech-savy, so my grin was probably bigger than it would have been otherwise:)






Providing New Opportunities for Student Success in the Gr. 8 Classroom

After reading Doug Peterson’s post this morning, which promotes the merits of teaching coding in elementary grades, I was reminded of a powerful interview with Silvia Martinez and Gary Stager, authors of Invent to Learn. Similar to Doug’s message, they speak on the importance of introducing students to learning opportunities that might not presently appear as a discipline in the curriculum.

Gary states that one of the 3 keys roles in education is to “introduce kids to things and ideas that they didn’t know they love yet, to give them exposure to things that they could fall in love with, that they could become great at, that they could use as a source of pleasure and opportunity as they go forth in their lives.”

This is our third year as a 7-12 school, and we continue to look for ways to do this in our elementary/high school community. Last year, as part of the gr. 8 science curriculum, our students spent 3 days in the high school wood shop with the tech teachers during a period that hadn’t been filled due to low enrollment. The high school teachers are happy to facilitate our students as they view it as “good advertising” for their program. This year, the high school tech department has a full gr. 9 tech rotation – in fact all periods are full each semester with various tech classes. We’ll still bring the gr. 8’s into the wood shop this year, but it has to be scheduled during the week of high school exams when the wood shop is empty. A good problem to have to work around.

On the other hand, enrollment was too low for the high school design tech class this year, so it was cancelled. But at the opposite end of the school building, our gr. 8’s are now using CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D printing technology. We’ve invited the high school design teacher into our classroom to see the engagement and interest that is emerging in the building. What impact might this have on his design class enrollment in the next few years?

“Proud of my work”. Prototype moves to Autocad 123D Design

By the time students reach high school, the opportunities to expose kids to “things they could fall in love with” is limited due to pathway expectations and required credits. If a student has never been in a wood shop, experienced CAD design and its opportunities, would they sign up for those classes? The same applies to computer science and coding – if a student has never experienced coding, and their passion is undiscovered, it makes sense to suggest it’s less likely they’ll register for it in high school. It’s essential our students are introduced to these opportunities before they decide on a particular career path. Leaving these opportunities until high school is too late. We have “closed the barn door after the horse has bolted”.

Barn door

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc

While I have no experience in coding, I’ve been thinking over the past few years about introducing it to our gr. 8’s using Scratch. Yesterday, during a snow day, I was sharing examples of programs students produced using Scratch with our French teacher – programs written by gr. 7 students. We soon began to answer our own questions regarding the why, how and where it could be used across the gr. 8 curriculum. And similar to what I knew about 3D printers when the one I ordered arrived at our classroom door (very little), my knowledge on Scratch is Limited. But as Silvia comments in the video, “Don’t wait for the pre-packaged curriculum. Be the architect of change in the classroom. How to start? Just start.” Once we get started, similar to our learning in 3D printing, I’ll be happy to take a seat beside my students as we learn together.

Today in our gr. 8 classroom, Jerry, a shy, unassuming student, was happy to take on the

“Relinquishing (our) authoritarian role”: Jerry, (gr. 8) teaches 123D Design.

Towards the end of the interview (9:25 to be exact), Gary states that “education needs to redefine success and scale”. He shares his personal experience of learning to program. Twelve-year-old Gary felt “powerful, sophisticated, smart, creative for the first time in my life”, and “developed habits of mind –  the ability to put myself in different perspectives to solve problems that serves me everyday of my life.” The WHY.

Gary acknowledges there might be those in the future who comment, “Remember that time we made things with computers? It didn’t raise test scores…..” His response refers back to the need to redefine student success and scale. “But if we wake up every morning, and we ask ourselves, how do we make this the best 7 hours of a kid’s life? And we now have wondrous materials to make this closer to being a reality…then we haven’t failed in our efforts. We are succeeding all the time.”

Learn more about Gary and Silvia’s work at Constructing Modern Knowledge.