The Makerbot 2X Replicator 3D printer has brought some exciting, vigorous learning into my grade 8 classroom. My room is full at lunchtime and after school with kids experimenting and curious teachers and students observing. On a couple of occasions, I’ve even had to kick a few students out after 5 p.m. I had no prior experience with these printers. While fascinated with the articles I’d read showing how they are used in meaningful ways, I had never seen one up close until ours arrived in my classroom. In a previous post, I wrote about how students dove in, setting it up. We’ve had the printer now for eight days. In this post I’ll share what the students and I have learned together. When the tech department teachers paid a visit to our room, these 13 and 14 yr. old. “geniuses” explained how the machine worked, its maintenance requirements, cost and time of production for each model, their newly acquired vocabulary and their next steps.
Makerbot has an excellent site complete with instructional videos and an expanding page offering uses in education. Last week, when we were struggling with the Makerware download, I submitted a support ticket. The Makerbot support team was responsive and within a few days, and the software fixed, we had the program loaded onto all laptops and netbooks.
In order for students to understand what a 3D printer could produce, we spent a class period touring thingiverse. This is a design community where students can discover what others have created, and because designs are licensed under Creative Commons, anyone can use these. The students learned how to download and print a few items from thingiverse – guitar picks, hockey stick and puck. Students are very respectful and conscious of the cost associated with printing, and so they weighed and determined the cost of each item based on a filament cost of $58/kg. The time to print each item is determined not only by the size but by the resolution, so they decided to compare the quality and time of a detailed castle in high, medium and low resolution.
Comparing resolutions (Left t0 Right): Low, Medium, High
My next door teaching partner, Marc Westra, and I wanted students to understand that 3-D printers aren’t a fad, just used to manufacture toys. They offer benefits to society that most of us haven’t even imaged. As part of a reading activity, students explored Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and sites such as 3DPrinterworld.com to discover a multitude of uses.
This week as more students chose to spend their lunch hour in my classroom, I suggested the kids play with two design software programs, Sketchup and Auto123D (I had no experience with either). They picked up Sketchup very quickly. One student designed an army tank, then the group worked together to determine how to export the file into Makerware and print (export, save as .OBJ file). Once in Makerware, the students decided they needed to add supports for the overhanging parts of the tank which are removed after printing. All of this was happening while I was learning how to use Auto123D from Riley, another gr. 8 student.
During the next class that followed lunch, while I was teaching Language, the printer softly sang out its robotic song of beeps and bells as it churned out “Joey the Tank”.
Yes, there were some mistakes (yeah!) which they’ll solve and reprint. Still, the students were pretty proud of themselves after creating and printing the first original 3D model at Madill. Skills used: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication and problem solving.
In the following class, I had these students introduce Sketchup to 60 of their peers. They’ve written an extension by creating a model for the students to produce in the next lesson. For me, the most important piece of this experience is recognizing who these “teachers” are. A few are those “C” students who fly under the radar in the regular classroom. Now, they have moved from learner to teacher.
Some students prefer Auto123D as the design software. Using the app 123D Catch, they discovered how to turn photos into a 3D models of themselves. Their goal is to create their entire class in 3D. Other designers/entrepreneurs in class want to design and sell (as a Gr. 8 fundraiser) FE Madill “stuff” – iphone cases with the student’s name embossed, guitar picks, and more. Their list is growing and will lead to another branch of learning including marketing and economics.
Success comes in many forms and pathways. Providing opportunities for students to explore areas of their interests strengthens our connections with them. While there may be no direct mention of computer design structure in the Gr. 8 curriculum, the critical thinking skills they are developing as they collaborate and share is enriching their self-directed learning. It’s fascinating to experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how students and other teachers in our school use this 3D technology.