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.

My Makerspace wishlist for K-12 Schools and College Makerspaces (aka fablabs, STEM labs, STEAM labs, hackerspaces, etc)

General, How-Tos

Folks have been asking me what I think it takes to make a Makerspace.

The short answer is people. The right person can make a space successful for very little money. Conversely, a lot of money can go to waste on equipment if the wrong person is running the show. I think the person needs to be have “EdTech” type humanizing technology skills and  the ability to use social media and media production to constantly market, document and publicize activities in the space. More support for the people aspect of Makerspaces is here: MIT FabLab Foundation, scroll down.

In terms of equipment, here’s my rough thoughts below, as of the publish date only. Check with me if it’s after that, things are moving fast in Makerland!

No Budget (It’s the people stupid!)

  • A champion who’s job it is to champion the space, as a volunteer, or as part of their existing job.
  • Check out the book Invent to Learn from the library.
  • From the recycling bins: Cardboard, cups, bottles, etc. (Wash them!)
  • Donated stuff: old toys, glue guns, duct tape, office supplies, old electronics, bike parts, scrap wood, kitchen supplies, (often from soliciting parents, community, and business donors – you’d be shocked at how much stuff arrives if folks know kids will be using it at school!)
  • Space: With windows that open. An empty closet, garage, tent, shed, or make it mobile with donated bins
  • Furniture: Folding tables and old chairs or stools. They will take a beating!

$5000 to $10,000

(Prices assume 10-20% education discounts on sites, just ask and use your teacher work email).

  • At least a paid part time champion (existing teacher, new hired, staffer, etc)
  • All the above plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • A sustained yearly supplies budget of about $3000.00 to $5000.00
  • At least one dedicated fast Mac or PC  and projector ($2500 or in a classroom already)
  • Student access to modern Web browser tools.
  • 3D Printer and supplies. 1 Afinia H480 ($1500), or 2 PrintrBot Metal Simples ($1500)
  • Vinyl Cutter and supplies. US Cutter ($500)
  • 8th? grade and up. All with good curriculum and support. My favorite for STEAM skills. Adruino.cc starter kits ($100ea). For more STEM skills, Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit ($80). For more choices on configurations, Adafruit kits.
  • <6th? grade MakeMakey kits ($39ea) or Littlebits (expensive).
  • Sparkfun ProtoSnap E-Textiles Starter Kit ($24 each)
  • Sewing Machine (~$150)
  • Multimeter (~$30)
  • A few key tools (~$200)
  • Extra electronics (~$200)
  • New glue guns, tape, wire, string, tinfoil, office supplies, etc (~$300)
  • Existing or inexpensive folding tables and chairs, or stools and benches, a fan, lights. (~$600)

$10,000 to $50,000

  • Fulltime champion
  • All of the above, plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • Out of my depth here, but I’m guessing a roughly 20% of initial budget for yearly supplies and IT (Spend $50K, need 10K year).
  • All of the above
  • Laser Cutter. Full Spectrum Laser cutter ($4000). Or Epilog Zing 30w Laser ($9000)
  • CNC rig? Or more electronics? Or more wearables?
  • Great furniture and lighting, natural hopefully, ($Lots)

$$$ Dreamy

MIT Fablab budget list

Basic Skills

  • Tinkering
  • Failing
  • Surfing the Web
  • Google searching
  • Shop safety
  • Documenting skills and habits. Finding files  and organizing them, and doing a little every day (videos, photos,  screenshots, writing summaries and notes with resources used and links. Exploring problems, surprises, solutions)

Some Software Thoughts (Thanks Jaymes Dec)

A computer that has, or can install and use:


Making with 50 K12 Teachers at CreateMakeLearn.org

documentation, Make & Fablab

Today is my last day of a fun week working with 50 teachers at the Create Make Learn 2014 intensive. We’ve been spending all day at The Generator makerspace in Burlington, VT, and at Champlain College (including a mid day walk break for lunch in the cafeteria!). We’re all working on the maker basics, Arduino based electronics, 3D printing, laser cutting, soft circuits, toy hacking, as well as video green screens. Documentation below:





ITP Camp 2014 report on National Maker Day

documentation, How-Tos, lessons learned, Travel Reports

National Maker Day

I started this post on National Maker Day, so here’s some info on that. The White House just released this: FACT SHEET: President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire: A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future. It’sFull of leads on grants and resources for Making in higher ed, and K12 here. And the White house had the first Maker Faire Day today: http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

ITP Camp 2014

I’m in NYC for three of the four weeks of ITP Camp 2014 telecommuting for Marlboro during the day as I refresh the skills I learned while at ITP in 2006-2008.  The camp is part of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts. Camp is for folks who want to come workshops after work, and on weekends, in making, physical computing, digital fabrication, e-textiles, programming, etc. It’s like a mini-graduate school! But without the credit, or the loans.

Here’s my project, the Grass Saver Garden, v1, aka “The Plant Killer”

Here are my photos from ITP Camp 2014 Photos on Facebook

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

I’m focusing on skills around 3D printing, laser cutting and basic electronics with solar panels by making a project that uses all three called the Grass Saver Garden. The project is kind of silly, but it’s a learning project. Simply put, I want to have a solar powered raised bed garden that will allow people to grow a garden, without digging up any of their lawn.

Makerspace Expo Room at Dynamic Landscapes 2014 Conference in Burlington Vermont.

documentation, General, Projects

I co-coordinated, with Donna Sullivan-MacDonald of the Vermont Library Association, a Makerspace Expo Room at this years Dynamic Landscapes conference in Burlington, VT at Champlain College’s Fireside lounge.

The open format with hands-on activities, student projects and local Maker-folk turned out to be a great success! Here’s some media.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 4.47.04 PM

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 4.47.54 PM

Keynote speaker Gary Stager recording video of an excellent student maker project.

Keynote speaker Gary Stager recording video of an excellent student maker project.

IMG_3569 IMG_3570 IMG_3571 IMG_3572 IMG_3573 IMG_3575 IMG_3595 IMG_3597 IMG_3598 IMG_3599
IMG_3601 IMG_3602 IMG_3603 IMG_3604 IMG_3605 IMG_3606

Custom 3D printer swag. Dynamic Landscapes 2014 ring

Custom 3D printer swag. Dynamic Landscapes 2014 ring. Customized from thingiverse object: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:314813


Sink Sensor: PIR motion sensor, Arduino and LCD screen to help keep sink free of dishes.


Final Prototype


)The sink in my workplace gathers dirty dishes. This is a problem for the faculty and staff who use the kitchen daily. It’s natural that dishes will pile up because we have students, renters, and visiting faculty and staff who use the kitchen sporadically, usually during a rush on a break. Also, not everyone knows the rules of the kitchen, or that it’s okay to use the dishwasher.

Sink with Arduino PIR sensor to LCD screen sink monitor
Sink with Arduino PIR sensor to LCD screen sink monitor (above, center).

After posting a much clearer sign, the dirty dishes were reduced. I decided to go further and use an Arduino, PIR sensor and LCD screen, and to solve the problem both technologically and psychologically.

Arduino PIR sensor to LCD screen sink monitor

Close up Arduino PIR sensor to LCD screen sink monitor

The beta test revealed that the sensor is a bit sticky sometimes and doesn’t catch motion, and that the message it sends when it seems motion around sink of “Please do your dishes” didn’t work as well as the message “Thank you for doing all your dishes.” Proof that you do sometimes get more bees with honey.


Brattleboro Area Makers (BAM) visits SurfaceGrooves.com and their 150 Watt Laser Cutter

General, Travel Reports

Our monthly meeting of Brattleboro Area Makers visited new Gilford Vermont makers, Elissa and Ryan, owners of SurfaceGrooves.com. Elissa and Ryan were kind enough to walk us through a quick laser cutter tutorial. They also showed us some of their excellent work. Impressive, educational and we got a “BAM” logo cut out of some scrap!

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut
Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut


Healthy Toddler & Kid Food Tricks


Our son is almost two now and we’ve learned some tricks for sneaking in healthy foods he won’t usually eat, like green veggies and beans, into the food he loves.

We live in Vermont and try and have a very good diet with as much local, natural, and organic food as we can get/afford. We’re members of the local COOP, as well as a food buying cooperative and we have a garden. We also love comfort foods and I’ve got a weakness for salty snacks and pasta and my wife for chocolate and ice cream.

Our son of course loves mac and cheese, or as he says “mac-n-cheese-noodles-pasta!” and can seem to pick all the fatty chicken out of any surrounding vegetables and beans.

Here our our favorites tricks.

  1. Mash canned chick peas into mac and cheese! They are same color, not to noticeable, but filled with fiber and protein.
  2. Blanch fresh Kale or Spinach in hot water, de-stem, and puree into a pesto like mush. Add to Mac and Cheese. The vegetable parts are so small they stick to the cheese sauce and he doesn’t notice.
  3. While in full view at the table for entertainment value, put Cinnamon on apple slices, or mayo, mustard, catchup (depends on your kids preferences) on veggies, fish, etc. Our son will eat them to get to the “sauce” as he says.
  4. Pretend to sprinkle salt on peas, corn, carrots.
  5. Put little dab of butter on hot veggies and watch it disappear.
  6. Buy high fiber, whole wheat, Kraft or other brands that have started to have the choice.
  7. Hummus seems to work well with Triskets or other very simple 3 ingredient high fiber crackers.
  8. Use opening fun cans to attract. Norway, bristling (smallest kind) sardines are salty and smokey, but also incredibly good for growing humans due to their calcium, Omega 3s and other nutrients. We use King Oscar “cross pack bristling” in Olive Oil and BPA free cans.
  9. Add Shredded Wheat, or Naked Wheat squares crumbled up to vanilla yogurt. Or put a drop of honey on each one.
  10. Eat veggies and salad with joy at the table to model good behavior!

That’s it for now.


Toy Hacking: Stripping a $20 RC Helicopter (Syma S107) down in weight to carry payloads around the office.

General, How-Tos
Toy hacked stripped Syma S107 RC helicopter

Stripped in weight Syma S107 RC helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter.

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It "airmail" message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It “airmail” message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via "airmail"

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via “airmail”


Parts I took off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter

Parts taken off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter to reduced weight and enable more payload carrying capacity.

Toy hacking Christmas presents time! I got my first inexpensive indoor Radio Controlled (RC) helicopter, a Syma S107/S107G R/C brand one, this holiday season. I’ve only flown a MOTA brand UFO ball around the office for a while before this, but it used the same prevelant four blade weighted rig that are on so many rigs for sale now. I wonder who got that patent!

Anyway, that UFO ball was very hard to control due to the plastic cage, and my newbieness, so when I found out regular helicopters had dropped to amazingly low prices of around $20, I pounced.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

I got the Syma helicopter from Amazon Prime, for about $20. This is for a metal bodied, metal screwed together, helicopter, with a controller. Amazing. I don’t have much experience, but it flies pretty well in all directions I’ve found. The key of course, is practice. And careful slow practice. Also, like roller blades, if you just keep moving forward and steering you learn to trust the control, vs trying stop in a straight line if there’s trouble. This model does go rather slowly forward, but I don’t mind since I use it in an office and use it during breaks to flex and move around bothering people.

My first thought after flying it for about 15 minutes a day for two days, was that there was an awful lot of plastic on it that might be able to be taken off. Lighter weight might also improve battery time, responsiveness, and forward movement – but even if it didn’t, I like toy hacking!

Over the next 4 days of flying it a few minutes a day, I took more and more parts off, testing it each time. Now it’s much lighter, a little less stable, but still able to be finely controlled. Now I’m going to stop taking off parts before I break it. We’ll save that for an upcoming crash.

Here’s the results in two videos.