How to use a 3D printer to get students into design and engineering
With a growing demand for ways to ignite students’ interest in STEAM fields and integrate design and engineering concepts into classroom activities with tangible results, teachers are sharing industrious ways to do so to all their students using a single piece of equipment: a 3D printer.
There are many types of 3D printers, but as their popularity has grown and technology has developed, prices have dropped in recent years, with personal 3D printers selling for as little as $250 and hobbyist 3D printers ranging from $300 to $1,500, according to Fusion3 Design. .
Two Alief ISD teachers in Houston, TX, Daniel O’Kilen and Carolyn Dersen, share their enthusiasm for using 3D printing to inspire students to learn STEAM concepts with anyone interested; during a Tuesday session of the Texas Computer Education Association’s annual convention in Dallas, they walked attendees through the details of their “11 Classroom Lessons to Use with Your 3D Printer” guide, which they made available for download as a Powerpoint presentation with all course material and teacher instructions.
Each lesson uses Tinkercad, Blender or SculptGL platforms and all are free.
Lessons include step-by-step instructions on the design and construction of the following:
- A 3 x 3 inch puzzle (think Rubik’s Cube)
- A ball runner
- Holiday ornaments or earrings
- Dual text message clipboard/cipher
- silhouette tumbler
- Face on a model of Mount Rushmore
- Star Trek Federation ship
- impossible creature
- Skeleton in realistic animal model
- Real world solution (think cell phone holder or light switch cover)
The first sample lesson is the puzzle challenge, where the first step is for everyone in the class to create the same puzzle pieces while going through the tutorial video. Next, students open Tinkercad and, individually or in groups, design their own puzzles.
The challenge requires that each puzzle has six pieces, the pieces must be saved separately (so they can be printed individually), they must be printable without supports (to respect the orientation of the 3D model and the printing parameters); and the pieces must fit together to form a cube.
Are your students totally new to Tinkercad? The holiday-themed ornament lesson is a good choice. Over its three video tutorials, students learn how to use basic Tinkercad tools to create their own basic objects while being guided through the design of a variety of holiday ornaments. The project ends with the students printing the custom ornament they designed, and the lesson can also be easily converted to create earrings instead.
In another example shared by O’Kilen and Dersen, making a silhouette tumbler, the lesson begins in Photoshop, where students turn a profile photo into a silhouette. Then the lesson teaches them to duplicate and flip the silhouette to create a vase shape between them, and the vase shape file is imported into Tinkercad where it is turned into a 3D object. Students learn to rotate their object to get a cup, add a “hole” to create a bowl or cup shape, and then each design is printed in real life.
The lightsaber lesson is a bit more complex, challenging students to design and print several primitive shapes that fit together to build a larger object, a lightsaber in this case. The video tutorial walks students through the process using the Blender app, but it can also be used in Tinkercad, according to O’Kilen and Dersen.
For students who have practiced design and 3D printing, the guide includes a final or culminating project, solving a “real world problem”. The instructions include examples and tips to help students through the problem-solving cycle, but there are no video tutorials or step-by-step instructions; instead, the lesson challenges students to identify a problem they want to solve with their creation, which can be designed in any 3D software. A few examples included in the teacher’s guide are a cell phone holder and a light switch protector.
Kristal Kuykendall is the editor of 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].