February 19, 2015

First Original Microscope | 3D Printing in the Classroom

We had a print fail, but it was clear that we needed a redesign.

We had a print fail, but it was clear that we needed a redesign.

I introduced the microscope project to my class some time ago and I was really excited about it. That project has languished due to other pressing projects. However, we have not given up and I am happy to report that we have printed our first original microscope. Of course, you rarely get it right on the first try so we have also printed our second, third,  fourth, and fifth microscope. You know what they say though, “Fifth times a charm!” Our fifth microscope turned out to be the one. It was a huge victory for the students who were working on it. The lead designer really developed some impressive skills through this process.

Getting closer.

Getting closer.

I really enjoy watching the design change and how the students are learning. The design has gotten smaller and able to be printed more efficiently. The student who is designing it is getting better and better with the design software. He is learning why it is important to measure ALL of the dimensions. It turns out that 3-dimensional does not mean there are only 3 dimensions to measure when you are working with real world applications. I watched the students measure one part of it correctly and neglect others.

This is what the file of the microscope looks like on the computer.

This is what the file of the microscope looks like on the computer.

Some of the power of 3D printing in the classroom means that we can print designs and physically see what was missed. I had to bite my tongue a few times because all I wanted to do was point out what they were missing, but they would not have learned nearly as much had I done that. I think a lot of teachers have a hard time letting students make mistakes like that. It is time consuming. However, 3D printing the microscope and trying to fit it on the iPad clearly demonstrated what needed to be done.  It was a joy watching the students look at it, determine what needed to be fixed and then set to work on it.

Our new microscope in action.

Our new microscope in action.

Unfortunately, even though our design fits, the optics leave something to be desired. I’m not really sure what the problem is. I do know that the glass bead we are using for the lens is aligned just right so I’m wondering if we need more light passing through the slide, or if the bead needs to be closer to the camera lens. We are going to have to experiment with these aspects of it in order to get the perfect model but the learning in the design process has been outstanding. Just today I asked our design student to design something for another project. He looked at my sketch and said, “Oh, I can design that, easy.” It’s clear that his self confidence and self efficacy have grown. Even if we don’t have a working microscope, the growth I have seen in the process is what really matters.

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