Teaching Elementary School Children 3D Printing
A few months ago, CHC purchased a 3D printer. Since then, I’ve been learning how to create objects using various programs. Initially, I used Blender, which is a very powerful, yet complicated 3D rendering program. I figured it was probably too difficult to teach to elementary school kids. Later, I tried SketchUp which is much easier, and there is also a free version of this. I was thinking of teaching this to the kids, when someone suggested I try TinkerCAD.
TinkerCAD is a free web based 3D design program. It is very easy. However, you need to set up an account to use it and the terms of service said you needed to be thirteen to set up an account. I didn’t want to go through issues of trying to get the parents to set up accounts, nor did I want to set up a half dozen student accounts to manage.
Fortunately, it turns out, you can have many people logged into the same account at the same time, so I set up six computers running TinkerCAD and logged all of them into my account. I prepared a lesson plan based on the TinkerCAD quests going through how to move, copy and replicate objects, how to change your views, how to change the size and location of objects and how to use the opposite of an object, a hole, to create interesting designs.
The students came in, sat down at the computers, and started working. Many of them had played Minecraft in the past, and were used to moving around cubes to create 3D designs, although they may not have thought of it that way. They all quickly started creating objects and reshaping things. There went my lesson plan.
So, I watched the students as they played at 3D design and I pointed out things they didn’t pick up automatically. A few had problems finding objects other than the basic geometric objects and I got them to scroll up and down the objects on the left. Many had probably moving objects up and down along the Z axis, and I showed them about using the little black arrows above and below the objects.
We also, fortunately, had more students than computers, and some students arrived a little bit late. This meant that the students needed to share computers, but more importantly, it gave them an opportunity to teach one another what they were learning.
I spent a little time talking about how long it takes to print objects. The basic cube takes about twenty minutes. Two cubes together, only takes a few minutes longer. The complexity of the object seems to contribute more to the time it takes to print an object than the size of it.
I show them how I could take their designs, save them as STL files, open those files in the Makerbot program, and then print the object. Seeing their objects printed, while understanding how long it took to create objects really inspired them, and by the end of the hour, every student had an object they wanted printed. They helped change the filament of the printer to the color they wanted and excited watched their objects appear.
I only had enough time to print the first two smallest object and I figure I’ve got a full day of printing objects from these students ahead of me. They will swing by later to print up their objects and perhaps share some of their own designs.
I pointed out to their parents how they could set up accounts, and share objects they created publicly. I expect I’ll be getting some emails about other objects they create.
The key take away in teaching kids 3D printing with TinkerCAD: Set up the environment, let them start playing with the program, give them hints on places where they might get stuck, encourage them by printing a few objects, and get out of the way. The students picked up TinkerCAD much more easily and quickly than even I had expected.