January 10, 2015

3D Printing In Space and In the Classroom

This has been a really fun week with regard to education technology in my classroom. It was just one of those weeks where things have fallen together. It started with Wednesday’s writing prompt in which I asked the students which tools they would bring with them if they were going to be spending time on a space station. They came up with some great answers. I got everything from oxygen tanks to hammers, wrenches, and even a 3D Printer.

On Thursday we had a brief discussion and I instructed them to take out their mobile devices. I had scheduled an assignment in Edmodo (A virtual learning environment. It’s like Facebook for the classroom.) The instructions were merely to click a link, read an article, and respond with the main idea. The article was from Space.com and the main idea was about how 3D Printing can help astronauts during their time in space when they need to be as self sufficient as possible. I was pleased to see that they picked up on that right away.

After a brief discussion held partly online and partly in person, I sent them another link. This time it was to the Space.com homepage with the instructions to read one or two more articles. This gave the class a broad understanding of the different topics on Space.com. Each of the topics had something to do with the 3D printer. At this point we had to stop for the day and move on to some other things.

The same working socket wrench that they use on the ISS.

The same working socket wrench that they use on the ISS.

We resumed our exploration of 3D printing and space on Friday morning. One of the articles they read on Thursday was about the first file that was emailed to the space station and printed up there. It was a socket wrench. It was designed here in California, emailed to the space station, and printed in orbit. The kids were interested, especially when I showed them the actual file of the wrench that we can download and 3D print. It did not take any convincing to talk them into printing our own replica. One of the students even had the idea to print smaller scaled models for the kids to keep.

I put a few students on it and in no time they had the file downloaded and loaded into the 3D printing software. We had a few print fails but before I went home Friday I had the exact wrench that is on the International Space Station in my hand. Unfortunately, the students had already gone home for the weekend. I can’t wait to show it to them on Monday. The funny thing is that I have to wait longer to show them the wrench than it takes for the astronauts to receive an email and print their own.

What really blows my mind is that it actually ratchets. I just thought it would be a single piece and not have any moving parts, but it works just like a store bought ratchet. The entire thing printed in one piece. So the moving parts were designed to be 3d printed as one piece. My class now has the same working wrench that the astronauts do on the International Space Station. Whoa.

Endless possibilities.

Endless possibilities.

I was also able to introduce them to the Future Engineering project that I wrote about last week.  After all of this focus on the International Space Station and tools, they had a good foundation to start with. I started with the videos from FutureEngineers.org. They were excited and I could tell their imaginations were firing. After we talked about the project I gave them some time to start writing down what they would invent to send to the astronauts. They had some great ideas. We will continue on Monday morning when I give them their completed Invention Journals. Next week is shaping up to be just as interesting.

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