Saturday, January 17, 2015

Our newest 3D Printing Club - Run by Students!

Our BPC Maker Club encourages students to join in the second trimester of 7th grade or later, (1) to keep it to a manageable size and (2) because it can be very frustrating to new students to work within the constraints and difficulties of maker club.  In the beginning of 7th grade, we do a lot of our engineering design work and you learn to deal with frustrations and work more independently.

To include some younger students, Sam, a fellow student, and I are running a 3D printing club, focused purely on the 3D printing aspect of our maker club. We teach a single 3D printing concept, from the 45 degree rule to exact measurements in TinkerCAD, every club meeting. We try to print everyone's models by the next club, and begin the next club with a discussion of what went wrong, and what went well.  (Here is an example of one week's lesson plan, although it doesn't make too much sense without the person explaining it.)

A few of the challenges we've run into so far include our hardware, in the form of Chromebooks, being less-than-perfect for the job at hand. Another is the problematic nature of TinkerCAD, and its tendency to crash at inopportune times. We haven't run into this problem yet, but we do have a back-up plan for when we do.

One of the biggest things that is going to have to change for 3D printing to be a feasible classroom technology is speed. Even for a club of 6, with 3 (active) teachers, Ms. Mytko on standby, and a once-a-week meet-up, printing these files sometimes is difficult. Each print is between 30 minutes and 1 hour long, and every print fail (~30-40% of them fail, because the 6th graders are relatively new to 3D modeling) adds significant time to the total print. Never mind the likelihood of both printer functioning at once. So teaching a 3D printing class to, say, 24 kids each printing a 20 minute file, which is a very small model, would take more than 11 hours of solid print time. Including time for transitions between prints, heating, and processing the files, that could be 15-17 hours.

15 hours of print item isn't really feasible for most classrooms. So many of us will be eagerly awaiting faster printers, and until then, trying to figure out a workflow that scales up more efficiently.

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