A New 3D Printer…
Our students are embracing learning 3D printing in Makerspace. We are a public elementary school with just over 500 students in grades Tk – 5th grade. A few years ago our district bought each school a 3D printer. Our printer was in the library, but it is now permanently housed in our Makerspace Lab.
Getting Started With 3D Printing…
There is a learning curve for 3D printing, but once you get past that the possibilities are endless. We received our printer late in the school year, so the first year we just printed projects that were already preloaded on the flash drive that came with the printer. It was enough to build excitement in our students and it became the norm to have students just standing in front of the printer watching an object build. We printed countless whistles and other little trinkets.
Learning To Design For The 3D Printer
The next school year I came back ready to dive into 3D printing. I read a how-to book and felt like I had a basic understanding of how it worked. A fellow colleague had already been using a 3D printer in her classroom. She told me about a program that allows the youngest of students to design an object to be printed on a 3D printer. The program is called Morphi. I was able to have our tech department install this app on our 2 iPads.
Morphi For 3D Printing
Morphi enables even our youngest students to design and make 3D models. Using Morphi students can use their fingers to draw on the screen and when their design is complete it can be turned into a 3D rendering with the click of one button. Older students use the drawing feature, but they also use symmetry and revolving lines to design with. The erase and resizing tools are both easy to use and intuitive. Morphi has continued to grow. Students are now able to explore augmented and virtual reality through their app. When students have completed their project they email it to me.
3D Printing Book Report Characters
I have a 1st-grade teacher that sends a few students a week to the Makerspace lab to make something to enhance their book reports. These are usually students that are ahead in class and they could benefit from extra enrichment. These students bring a book report form and work on it while they are waiting for an iPad to open up. When it’s their turn with the iPad they use Morphi to pick a character, an object, or a scene that they would like to bring to life. After they are done designing I show them a ruler and let them decide what size their project should be. When I return the 3D project to their teacher they are always excited to show their fellow students what they made. I also have teachers that will schedule a time for their entire class to work on a project.
A 1st-grader bringing his book report character to life with 3D printing in Makerspace.
One 3rd grade class did a project on animal adaptations. First, they had to write the report, then they drew it, then they made a model out of recycled materials, and lastly, they used Morphi to design a 3D model of their animal. They were able to display all of their work at our Open House.
In our Makerspace lab, we only have 2 iPads and we use them to control many things. Because there is usually a long list to use the iPads some of our older students have learned to use Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free online program that students can use to design and model in 3D. Our students use Google SS0 (single sign-on.) They are able to use their SSO for Tinkercad as well. This allows them to work on projects both at school and at home. We held an introduction to Tinkercad class in the lab for students that were interested. At school, our students are using Tinkercad on our desktops. Tinkercad has plenty of how-to videos and tutorials that students can follow along with. The projects that they are building tend to be larger and more elaborate than the ones they build on Morphi, but that is probably because the students using Tinkercad are older.
Thingiverse is a website that is dedicated to sharing user-created files. Open-source projects are available for downloading, modifying, and printing from their website. They also have an education section with projects that are easy to follow along with. There have been times when a teacher has asked me for a 3D model and instead of spending hours designing it I look on Thingiverse. After I find what I’m looking for I download the files and then print them out. Students enjoy browsing Thingiverse. It gives them ideas and helps them see what is possible in the world of 3D printing.
USB Flash Drives
The most efficient way I found to get student’s projects from their Tinkercad accounts to me is with a flash drive. Students first log in to their Tinkercad account. When they are finished designing they make sure to change the name of their project to include their name, for example, Sam’s helicopter. Tinkercad automatically names and saves projects, however, it puts random titles. It is important for me to know who made the project in case I have problems printing. After the name is correct the student gets a flash drive (I have 10 flash drives hanging in the lab for their use) and exports their work to a folder on the drive that is labeled lunch 3D. The student then hangs the flash drive on a hook by my computer.
Regardless of what program students use to design their 3D projects before I can be print them the projects need to be sliced. Slicing software is basically a program that tells your 3D printer how to print the project. The printer needs to know how to layout the project and how many layers the project will have. Each 3D printer will tell you what slicing program to use. I have our slicing program installed on my computer. At this time I am the only one that slices in our lab. My computer displays on a large screen, so if I’m working on slicing while students are in the lab they like to watch. In the program, you can also resize the project if that wasn’t done prior. During slicing is when you can add supports or rafts to the projects to help ensure a quality print.
Getting Ready to 3D Print
When I have time to sit down at my computer I go through emails and plug in each flash drive. I look at each project and determine if it has already been resized. I resize the projects from Morphi for our younger students. Our students in the 3rd – 5th grade know how to resize. I have two flash drives that I only use for completed projects. Each drive has folders labeled with either teacher’s names or lunch 3D. I found out the hard way it is easier to be organized and put projects in folders.
When the projects are loaded on the flash drive I plug them into the printer and start printing. As soon as I start a project the student’s name will show on the screen. I use a Sharpie to write their name on a piece of blue painter’s tape. I stick the piece of tape to the printer. When the project is done I stick the piece of tape on the completed project and continue on with the same process for the next print. If I’m printing projects for an entire class sometimes they look very similar. I use the painter’s tape, but I also print out a class roster and mark off their name as I go. This helps me stay on track. In addition to the Makerspace, I am also running the library and I’m constantly distracted or running off in another direction.
Maintaining the 3D Printer
Every 3D printer is a little bit different. Before using the printer it needs to be leveled. Ours has instructions for leveling on the menu. Once your printer is leveled and if you are not moving it you should rarely have to level it again. The one in our lab has a heated bed. This helps projects to stick to the bed while being printed. I have not had to use hair spray or another adhesive. I do use rubbing alcohol on the bed and on the nozzle that the PLA comes out of. The nozzle has become clogged a few times. I have been able to use an acupuncture needle to push the clog through.
By providing our students with the tools and the means to 3D print we are expanding their worlds. If they can imagine it, they can make it. Their enthusiasm for printing is contagious. I see 3D printing engaging even the most reluctant learners. 3D printing also gives students the opportunity to fail. Not every project prints properly. These mistakes give students a chance to sit down correct the problem and try again. In our Makerspace lab, we are helping students learn skills that they can build upon throughout their school years and beyond. The possibilities of what they can do with these skills are endless.
Answer to Question (That Adults Ask Me)
- How did you learn how to use the 3D printer? I read a basic book and then I just jumped right in. I am not an expert and I’m constantly learning new things and I ask for help when I need it. Morphi is amazing and I have worked with them on a few projects. I reach out to them when I have questions. I also ask our technical department in our district if I’m stuck on something. Google is a great resource for answers as well. One of my greatest sources of help is our students. There are always a few 4th or 5th graders that know way more than I do. I have found they flourish in the role of being an expert. They are more than happy to help me or fellow students.
- When do the students have access to 3D printing? Our lab is open during our student’s recess and lunchtime. They have access to iPads and desktops during these times. In addition, teachers will either schedule time for their entire class to work on projects or send individual students to the lab during their free time.
- Do I only work in the Makerspace lab? In addition to running the Makerspace lab, I am also the librarian. We have a very busy library with class visits and student check-outs. Running both is a juggling act, but it’s never boring and my days fly by.
Supply questions for 3D Printing
- Are the supplies expensive for the 3D printer? We buy PLA from Amazon. It is about $20 a spool. Our printer prints non-stop and we used 8 spools of PLA during this school year. When we first started we only used 2 spools for the whole year.
- Do you use other colors of PLA? We now only buy and use white PLA. I don’t have the time to switch back and forth between colors. I chose white because the students can use Sharpies, markers, or paints to decorate their prints.