Teaching 3D Printing: Lessons Learned


Just finished a week long 3D printing workshop with 8 middle school students grades 4 to 7. We met 8:30-11:30am each day and used a single brand new Afinia H480 3D printer. Our main tool was Tinkercad.com. We explored Autodesk’s Meshmixer the last two days.

Here’s a video of unboxing the printer, with some printing thoughts. Below that is what I learned from the week.

Here’s what I learned from the experience.

  1. If you want to print it, you’ve got to make it. You can only print designs you made, or significantly changed. I took this rule from other teachers I’d talked to. Thingiverse.com is so full of great designs to print, if you can use it, you’ll never design you own objects. As it was, a student quickly found out that iPhone and iPod cases can be imported from Thingiverse to Tinkercad and the news spread in seconds. I made the kids make significant designes, using “holes”  (negative space) in Tinkercad before I allowed these prints. And since a case takes about 2 hours, I also make original designs that were smaller have priority.
  2. If you want to print it, you’ve got to take a screen shot of it. A screenshot needed to be emailed or flashdrived to me with every .stl file to be printed. I came up with this one myself, after struggling to get students to take screenshots for their Maker Journal documentation. This solved that issue. Students didn’t mind, and then they had the screenshots they needed for their journal.
  3. Keep a Journal, but maybe it’s video. Initially I thought the students would write more then they did, but I soon saw how hard it is for the them to write documentation type writing, especially in the summer. I scaled back to them putting in screenshots of their work, with captions, and a brief paragraph of their biggest thoughts. I then captured more of their thoughts on video, which they found to b a much easier medium to communicate in.
  4. First impressions. My students thought the printer looked “old” and didn’t know that adults didn’t have this technology when they were kids. I did a little show and tell about the wonders of 3D printing to us adults, and how “additive manufacturing” is changing the way we build things, and that helped them get a sense of context.
  5. Stay with the printer. If you have an object being printed on the machine, you have to stay close to the printer and keep an eye on it. I learned this from ITP Camp at NYU. It’s too easy to print and walk away, but things can go wrong, and someone needs to stop the machine when they do.
  6. Keep it small. One printer means I scaled prints down to about an inch if I could, in order to save time on printing.
  7. Tinkercad’s intro lessons are good. Students got a lot out of using Tinerkcad’s introductory lessons.
  8. One lessons a day. Each day I tried to only teach one main thing. Day 1 was basic Tinkercad tools via their lessons and then basic shapes. Day 2: How to use the “hole” button to make negative space. This is key for realizing that Tinkercad’s simple interface can actually do much more than one initially thinks it can. Day 3: Auto alignment.
  9. As long as they are Making. Have other Making activities ready. They needed breaks from designing objects so I opended up the use of the laptops to Scratch.mit.edu game making, (not playing) MinecraftEDU making, watching the Sylivia Maker show, drawing, etc.

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