I’ve been in school for about a month and our 3D printer (a Printrbot Plus) has been running almost every day throughout that time.
We are starting to collect little bits of plastic stuff around the classroom. Kids have printed out logos, letters, their name, figurines and pencil holders. Each of these projects are things that the student’s have designed using Google Sketchup. They have moved from smaller objects to larger, more complex pieces as they build on what they see each other doing.
When I first set my mind on getting a 3D printer for my classroom, I was determined that it wouldn’t be used to simply download objects from a repository like thingiverse, but that, instead, it would be a design tool. I’m happy to say that this is the way that we have been using it.
What I’ve learned though is that it isn’t only about the stuff that you make. The small cups and logos and cases that the kids have made are great. I love to see the look on their faces when they actually get to hold a physical object in their hands that they created on a screen. But it’s bigger than that. There is a lot of thought that goes into holding that object in your hands. There is the entire 3D design process that involves a lot of software skills and an extended thought process. It has been an amazing process to see watch the students teach each other tips and tricks for making things using the software. They have turned into a genuine learning community with experts and referrals happening almost each day (“Go see Justin, he knows how to make good arcs.” was what I heard this morning)
The entire printing process is still somewhat of a mystery to us. Printing isn’t as easy as pressing print on a document and walking away. Some objects haven’t printed correctly and we aren’t sure why. Some things simply won’t print at all. These are issues that we need to think through and troubleshoot. Hotend temperatures, feed speeds, layer heights and a dozen other variables all contribute to a successful project. These are things that we are learning as a class. Troubleshooting is, as always, a major source of learning. When things go wrong and you need to fix them – someone has to learn something!
Over the last few days more and more of my students are picking up Sketchup and choosing to work on a project. I have students not in my class who are coming in and wanting to know if they can create things and print them off. (my response: absolutely! Let me help you get the software that you need) The kids love the objects, the little bits of plastic that they end up with in the end, but like with most other technology learning in classrooms, it isn’t about that one single moment; it’s about all of the steps that need to happen to make that moment possible.
Just as blogging in a classroom with kids isn’t always about blogging, but about voice and connections, 3D printing isn’t always about that little plastic piece that you get to take home at the end of the day.