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I have recently been giving quite a lot of thought into what makes a good CAD and 3D printing project for my students to work on. … And it has really started to stretch my mind :o)
There's a lot of buzz about 3D printing at the moment and with a few different initiatives kicking off in education in England (and the world) I started to think about what all the newly acquired 3D printers were going to be used for in Design and Technlogy and STEM subjects. As anyone who has used a 3D printer will know it isn't ever going to produce instant results so the temptation is to get the students to design small objects. Objects that are as flat as possible keeping print time to a minimum so that whole class sets can be “banged out”. This fills me with horror, what are we going to see this 21st Century technology producing? …. KEYTAGS !!! :o(
So what do we need to do?….
One of the first things to consider is “Why do we have to print every design?”… Only printing a few of the “best” designs from a group of students isn't all that bad. In fact in my experience it can introduce an element of competition into the learning experience. And students do work harder and produce better thought out designs in trying to make sure that they can print theirs. Being open and honest about this from the start of the project avoids any disappointment and also brings a bit of reality to the classroom… In the real world it is after all only the best designs that make it to manufacture and succeed in the market place.
We should also consider why we are using 3D printing as a method of manufacturing designs in the first place. To my mind the great advantage of 3D printing is that it is one of the few ways of designing and making things in school that allows true iterative designing and of course iterative designing is one of the key elements of the 2014 National Curriculum in England. With 3D printing it is possible to make a design relatively quickly (especially compared to the many hours that can be spent in using hand tools to make an object), so after testing and evaluating the printed object it is quite feasible to go through another iterative cycle and make improved versions of the product.
Having now considered how many objects to print and using iterative designing within the projects I might be a bit closer to thinking about a “fit for purpose” 3D designing and printing project, but there are some other things that should be taken into account.
Designing for “fit”… It may seem obvious but many projects don't really require students to design products that properly fit together. Over the last couple of days I have been playing around with a sort of desk tidy idea and this is perhaps a good example of what I have been thinking about. I wanted something that not only looked cool but was functional on my desk, so I had the idea of doing a “spiral thing with pencils”…. Easy, or so I thought! I roughly measured the diameter of a pencil and made some angled holes in a base… But what I didn't take into account was that the angle changed the shape of the holes, they became elliptical and the “fit” of the pencils wasn't good….. Grrrr! … So my next iteration took this into account by making the holes conical to match the taper of the pencils (and a bit bigger too so that the points wouldn't be broken). This time it was better but I hadn't taken into account the diameter of the base that would space out my 20 pencils correctly but also economically use materials…. And now I found that the pencils were a sloppy fit and didn't always line up properly. Anyway, my point is that a project that has to function properly and fit together accurately can be a lot more challenging than it first appears.
So, am I any further with thinking up new projects for students? Well, yes and no. I'm a lot clearer in what I want the projects to do, I just need to think more about the context for the products and find something that will grab the students attention, challenge their designing and thinking skills and build on their creativity!… Time to ask the students what they think!
Personally I'm not all that into games on computers or tablets, I see these devices as being more for “doing” things with. But a can see that these programs and apps have great appeal to youngsters. So why not use them as a way to introduce kids to designing an making with 3D printing?
Well that's just what 3D Systems and Cubify have done with the new app “Blokify”. It's available for iOS and Android. Here is the link to the Apple App Store.
The app is a bit like “Minecraft” in that simple blocks (bloks?) can be assembled into all sorts of structures… Castles, forts, etc. And then of course exported or in this case emailed as a .stl file.
Even for an oldie like me who has never played with computer games the app proved to be extremely intuitive to construct my castle…. A colleague of mine commented that even her 4 year old was able to use Blokify, so it doesn't really say much about my skill level :o)
Anyway, here is a screenshot from the Blokify app that I have exported and is currently printing on my CubeX 3D printer…. I'll post another picture when it's completed.
The app is free to download and comes as standard with a few different building bloks but it's an in app purchase to unlock some extra different bloks using “diamonds” as currency (note that as this is mainly an app for kids safeguards are built in to help prevent them running up big bills on your Apple store account)
Here is a quick picture taken mid print…. Love the texture that is showing up on the castle walls!
Anyway, I'm really impressed by how well this all works. So congratulations Cubify on a great app to encourage creativity in 3D printing for youngsters!
And here it is…. My first mini Blokify castle!
Yesterday saw me getting up really early (too early for a Saturday!) for a long drive from Clevedon to York for the launch of the Teach Design Tech Centres (TDTC).
To be factually correct it was “launch mkII” as the storm back in October meant that only some of the centres could travel down to Clevedon for the first meeting.
After an introduction from the Teach Design guys we got down to the business of looking at what the centres would be able to provide to local schools…. Including 3D printing with 3D Systems machines, Autodesk Inventor, VEX robotics, Cleapss health and safety and a whole lot more.
…And then a quick introduction to “3D printing in schools” by yours truly and some practical advice on “how to get started” by Iain Major (from 3D Systems) with the Cube and CubeX machines.
Lunch, taken on the hoof, brought the opportunity for some informal networking amongst the team and a sneaky look around the facilities at Steve's school to see what ideas could be “magpied”.
After wrapping up the meeting it was time to pack up and head south on our 3.5hr journey (thanks for the lift Iain!)
Everyone left buzzing with excitement with the great things to come from the 20 TDTCs go online in January 2014 to provide training across the UK ….for teachers, by teachers!
So, if the development of the TDTCs has whetted your apatite for some training in up to date D&T keep an eye on the Teach Design website. http://www.teachdesign.org.uk
On Friday I was given the opportunity to run a workshop for the North Somerset Learning Exchange… A primary school conference called Building on Making Learning Irresistible. My workshop was primarily to look at the implications of the new national curriculum for Design and Technology.
The first part of the workshop involved a presentation and discussion “unpicking” the key parts of the document and looking at how schools might change the activities they do with their children in the context of their school.
The second part was “hands on” with some of the newer technologies, 3D Printing, Robotics and programming, and CAD/CAM.
The conference happened to be taking place on the BBC “Children in Need” day. So the mascot Pudsey Bear inevitably made a few appearances.
Before finishing this post I must thank a few people for helping out with the organisation, loan of equipment and inspiration for the workshop…. Clevedon School Learning Hub, North Somerset Learning Exchange and Teach Design for all the organisation and admin. 3D Systems for providing the Cube 3D printer, Roland DG for providing the vinyl cutters, VEX Robotics for the loan of the VEX IQ Clawbot.
The Department for Education in England has published a report on 3D printing in schools to enrich STEM and design subjects.
Download the document here
The document looks at the experiences of 21 schools using 3D printers for the first time in Science, Maths and D&T.
A write up on the Telegraph newspaper goes on to say thet £500K will be invested to allow 60 teaching schools to buy printers and train teachers to use them effectively.
I stumbled across Cubify Draw app for iPad earlier today… Just had to download it!
My initial thoughts were that it is very simple… Perhaps too simple but maybe this will develop over time. I then went on to start thinking about how this could be used in schools. And my thoughts instantly went towards primary school age children. What a fantastic way to get them to doodle an idea and start 3D printing on a Cube or Cubex printer within minutes of getting started… And no complicated CAD to get involved with.
Being so simple it will be necessary to think carefully about what the kids can design but instantly I was drawn towards the idea of personalised bespoke biscuit (cookie) cutters and the like. (I must be hungry whist writing this for my mind to wander towards food again!)
Anyway, I've had an initial try out with the app and can't wait to try printing some objects.
At my school we run termly (6 times a year) Learning Hub meetings. These allow teachers from Clevedon and Gordano schools to learn new things about teaching and learning and share ideas.
This evening was my turn to host a Hub meeting. Not only were there teachers from the usual two schools but we were also joined by teachers from Nailsea School's D&T department. And of course the theme was about 3D printing.
We were also lucky enough to have Iain Major from 3D Systems come along to help out.
The session started with a presentation about 3D printing both in school and how it is related to what is happening in industry, fashion, medicine etc. The delegates then created their own designs using the Cubify web apps…. And of course then had the opportunity to print these using Cube printers.
The session that started at 4pm was due to finish at 5.15pm, but the last people left well after 7pm…. I think they enjoyed it and were captivated by the technology!
And here is a video taken from the presentation.
Before finishing this post I must thank the 10+ visitors from Gordano and Nailsea Schools and of course staff from my own department who stayed too. And also a huge thank you to Iain Major from 3D Systems for bringing along another Cube 3D Printer, joining in the conversations and helping most of the delegates with printing their designs created using the Cubify Web apps.