September 30, 2015

3D Printed Name Plates

As summer came to a close this year my mind turned towards 3D printing in the classroom. I wrestled with the idea of the first print of the year. I wanted to do something that would be useful and captivate the students. For a moment I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to continue to find projects that I haven’t done before. Not that there is anything wrong with repeating projects, I just like to do new things. It didn’t take long for inspiration to hit.

In the midst of planning the first few days of the year I realized a couple of things. One was that I wanted to do an escape-room type of introduction activity where the students had to work together to discover where they sat. In the process they learned about each other and about the classroom. That meant that I would not have their name tags on their desks like I usually do. Another thing I realized is that I would eventually need name tags. This got me thinking about maybe 3D printing name tags. That would make a great introduction to design software and the entire process, but I felt that project was a little flat and too easy.

As I started thinking about what else I could do I remembered how last year my students kept building stands to hold up iPads while they were working on projects. Making name plates that double as a pencil holder and iPad stand would be much more challenging and interesting.

I went to work designing a prototype just to see what I could do. I, of course, had to make several iterations and learned how to make it a little better each time. I felt like I was stealing the learning process from my students by not letting them struggle through this process, but I felt like my objective was to introduce them to the designing software and the 3D printing process.

After a few tries I had something that I thought would work. I made four short tutorial videos of them and posted them to our class wiki so the kids could have access to the directions.

The day came when we could all get into the computer lab. The kids logged in and quickly discovered that the software we needed had been deleted over the summer. We switched to plan B, but the students were very disappointed. So was I. This meant that I only had one computer where they can work on their designs.

School continued and as students finished their work they asked if they could work on their name plate. Four students were able to complete their name plates in this way. One of them was a student who just moved to this country and is learning English for the first time. I could tell he was excited about the project and was able to complete it without any trouble.

Four weeks later the computer lab was ready to go. It was an exciting thing to see the kids get logged in and start to work on their projects. I loved that they were able to be independent on a new program. There were a few hiccups along the way, but the 4 students who finished already were there to help the other students. They did a fantastic job getting around to everyone and slowly the students began to finish their designs. My student who is just learning English was delighted to be able o help other students, and used more English in that 45 minutes than I have heard him use all year. Now we are ready to start the printing process.

A student putting his nameplate to good use.

A student putting his nameplate to good use.

I feel like the students are getting a terrific introduction to this process. As they finish up I am challenging them to improve my original design. That way they can add their own style and voice to their design and learn more about this process. I love seeing them working through the steps of this and helping each other along the way. I also enjoy watching them use their iPad stands in class. They have already been very useful. The rest of the year is beginning to take shape, and I can’t wait to see what they build.

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