I’m a Teacher, I’ve managed to get a 3D Printer (woohoo!)……What do I do with it now???

So, you’ve seen things that have been 3D printed on Twitter or The Design and Technology Teachers’ Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/DTteachers/

You have CAD software and a 3D printer, I also guess you have been on http://www.thingiverse.com/ and have made an Eifel Tower….(if you haven’t then the link is here http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:32825)

Now you have the issue of what to actually print that will be of benefit to not only the pupils you teach, but the subject we all love….DESIGN and Technology!

I shouted DESIGN in capital letters, because, for me, 3D Printing is all about inspiring pupils to design.  There is nothing wrong with using Thingiverse to make a few prints to show pupils, it can also be a great way to get used to using your printer, but ultimately, 3D Printing what you have designed is what it’s all about for me and the pupils at my school.

I have had many printers over the last four years and have had up to five all running at once in my classroom…..I did just start with one though, and this blog post is really aimed at teachers that might have just one printer, or will use this blog to try and get one, they are life changing and are simply amazing, so good luck if you are putting a bid together! (email john@dtresources.co.uk if you want any help!)

I am in the very fortunate position of working at an ‘Outstanding Teaching School,’ and as well as my job as Head of Design and Technology, I also do SLE work (read previous blog about what an SLE is if you are unsure) and often support CAD training and the use of 3D printers in the classroom.

If the outcome is a 3D Print, it is the realisation of an idea or could be part of an iterative design cycle.  With this in mind, the learning that take place in your classroom has very little to do with 3D Printing.  The learning takes place in the way the print has been designed.  My point is proved when you consider that if a pupil downloaded a file to print, they may learn how to set up a printer, but if all they keep doing is printing the work of others….they are not learning any more about design.

There is no doubt that our subject offers outstanding learning opportunities that challenges the most academically able minds on the planet….but if we focus solely on project based learning where every pupil makes the same project, we are going to slowly damage the subject.

The subject has moved to designing within a context rather than to give a pupil a design brief….whilst this could be seen as a good thing as the open task is exciting, I still like to let pupils choose from a selection of pre-thought out design tasks so they can get their teeth stuck in straight away.  I have spent a while looking online at some good starting points that could be used in lessons to encourage pupils to design.

basically, you need:

  • CAD software (I used Autodesk Inventor up until about a month ago, but am now completely hooked on using Autodesk Fusion 360)
  • Paper and pencils for initial ideas (some people design straight on screen, but I think I’ll always be a sketcher first :-))
  • PCs for pupils to use.
  • At least one 3D Printer
  • Some filament to print with, there are lots you can buy now, but starting with a roll of PLA would be my advice.

You need to excite the pupils about getting their design printed, but need to make them aware that they are learning by designing and the 3D print will be the prize at the end of the unit of work.  I see the unit of work as a sort of competition, I tell the pupils that we can’t have the one 3D printer being used to print something that isn’t well thought through.  There is nothing wrong with printing something that isn’t quite right first time round though.  I often will print something on a fast setting with a low infill just to see how it may fit with another part.

If I had a class of 20 (ideal world I know!), I’d suggest you offer to print 5 from the class, if you can fit in printing more then great, but by keeping the number low, you make the 3D print a bit more exclusive and the stakes of the competition greater.

(Hundreds of pupils have had 3D Prints at my school now, but bare in mind this blog is about getting started and developing with your 3D printer over time).

Now you have the gear and the pupils, you need to get them a problem to solve so they can design (and learn).  Below is a list of useful things that I would suggest:

  • Passive Phone Amp
  • Phone Stand for a bed side table (hands up if you put your phone on the floor at night?)
  • Soap Dish
  • Jam Jar Handle (so many places are now using jars as glasses, why not make a handle for one?)
  • Small Floating Shelf for a wall with a secret compartment.
  • Head Phone Holder
  • Lamp Head for use with 5V LED strip light
  • Garlic Crusher
  • Ear Bud Wrap
  • Tablet or iPad stand for a long journey (extension to this is to make it so it folds)
  • Money Box
  • USB/SD Card Holder
  • Teachers’ whiteboard pen holder
  • Wall Mounted Camera Holder
  • Door Hooks
  • Door Stop
  • Book Mark
  • Wall Mounted Storage for a particular item

Pupils will need some items to measure so they know how big to make certain parts, I have sets of digital callipers so pupils get used to making products to a fine tolerance.

At first, CAD skills can be limited and great success can still be had.  I start by teaching the following skills:

  • Draw a 2D shape and Extrude it.
  • Draw a 2D shape to cut though a solid.
  • How to draw a new solid on a face or new work plane
  • How to draw using a revolve tool
  • Fillet and Chamfer

Once a pupil has learnt the skills above (2 lessons), they are able to start designing something that can be printed.

Once they have seen some work printed, both you and them will learn why some prints work out better than others.  The more you print, the better you will get!

Most of the items on my list have been designed and made at my school, pupils love 3D Printing but know only the designs that have been thought through the most will get printed (this is at KS3, 11-14 year olds).

GCSE pupils all design many parts for their projects and have all of them 3D Printed, the quality of the work produced and the practical marks gained are now always high….this is not just because of 3D Printing, but because the pupils have got better at designing!

Please comment on this blog if it has helped with your 3D Printing.

Thank you.






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