Thursday, June 11, 2015

3D Printing in Social Studies

People who know me know I've been talking about 3D printing for years. I get giddy when I think about how accessible 3D printing has become and that my children are growing up in a world where they can print their own tools, toys and trinkets. Therefore I was over the moon when my director purchased a 3D printer for us to bring into the schools where we work.

I had one teacher who was interested right away. A sixth grade social studies teacher had been going through our technology professional development program, Teacher Leadership Program, and was looking for a project he could dig into. Together we developed an idea to have his students design a coin about one of the first five presidents (a topic directly from our state standards). Each class would vote on the best design and then we would print the best ones.

There was a serious buzz in the room when I brought the 3D printer in. We have a Makerbot Replicator Mini which is compact and light-weight, so I carried it into the room myself. Students were full of comments and questions:
  • "It's smaller than I thought it be."
  • "How much did it cost?"
  • "How long does it take to print?"
  • "I want one!"
First I reviewed some key aspects of the software we were going to use to design the coin. We decided to use 3D Tin by Lagoa. This software allows students to log in with a Google account and since our school has Google accounts, this was perfect. 3D Tin has some great starter tutorials as well so students were encouraged to watch several of these before getting started. Students took to the software well and taught each other many of the less intuitive aspects of the program. 

Designing in 3D is definitely easier for some students than others. Some got frustrated quickly while others drew complicated objects while I was still getting some students logged in. Showing students how to return to a home view or rotate objects were two key techniques.

What I loved about this lesson was that students got more creative due to some of the limits of the program. They drew images using small blocks (like one might in Minecraft). They got more symbolic than they might have been given other projects where they could copy and paste images or long passages of text. I also loved how they inspired each other. One students would figure out how to draw, say, the Washington Monument, and suddenly you'd see others working on a drawing of the Capitol. Our English Language Learners did fabulously with this lesson. Since most of the modeling is visual, they had no problem creating great images for their coins.

I also loved all the natural curiosity the 3D printer brought out. Students started showing up before school and during lunch to watch it print or to ask questions about how it worked. Some students that aren't your typical high achieving or tech-geeky students were the best at finding creative ways to make their 3D model or to help out with the printing process. My heart is always lifted by lessons that draw new students into the learning process.

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