How to 3D Print in School

The World is NOT flat, it is round.

“When Columbus lived, people thought that the earth was flat. They believed the Atlantic Ocean to be filled with monsters large enough to devour their ships, and with fearful waterfalls over which their frail vessels would plunge to destruction. Columbus had to fight these foolish beliefs in order to get men to sail with him. He felt sure the earth was round.” –Emma Miler Bolenius, American Schoolbook Author, 1919

Whilst this article is not related to Christopher Columbus, or sailing for that matter, the quote above does work as an analogy for my views on how we need to look at the way we teach design and the way we use 3D Printers in school.

Sheets, Planks and Donnelly Boxes

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I can only speak of, and criticise my own practice, but since most of the material that we buy in my department comes in sheets and planks, it is no wonder that lots of the pupils end up making something that resembles a box.  Don’t get me wrong, many pupils have made mighty fine boxes…..they have produced Memphis Clocks, Art Deco MP3 docking stations, De Stijl lamps and desk tidies. I have been very proud of them all at the time, but they have been boxes at heart.

If ever a pupil wanted to make something that looked more organic (heaven forbid), we have done so, but we have wasted quite a lot of material by layering up, sanding away and discarding sometimes as much material as we end up with!

Things got so bad with boxes one year, pupils in one of my classes used to go and ask my technician if they could have a ‘Donnelly box’ (the name was given by the pupils, not me).  They were then given four lengths of pine that they could join together to hold a circuit and battery.  Once they had the ‘Donnelly Box’ and circuit securely fixed in place, they could then start to think about how to disguise the box so it looked like their own.  Normally acrylic was cut and added to make a phone holder or clock, the corners of boxes were sanded, MDF was added, then primed and painted….the ‘Donnelly boxes’ looked great in the end, but they were still box shaped monstrosities that were far too big for their intended use.

Be more like Christopher Columbus (A picture of Christopher Columbus?? I am not sure about photo copywrite?)

With this in mind, I feel that I have had to become a little bit more like Christopher Columbus and am trying to challenge pupils to move away from ‘flat’ (and monsters) and think round/curved/organic.

I sometimes blame the way pupils are taught to design in the first place for the box shaped designs and products I see.  When we encourage pupils to draw something that resembles a 3 dimensional sketch they find it hard.

The process of teaching 3 dimensional sketching often starts with the use of isometric paper or a 3D drawing aid to draw a box or crate. Once the pupils have their box drawn they are then asked to use the box as a guide so that their 3D design can fit inside, commonly known as ‘crating’.  I have seen pupils spend so long getting their initial box projected correctly, I can’t help thinking that it is no wonder they are happy to actually build a box since the one they have just drawn looks so neat!

I am very glad to say that the ‘Donnelly Boxes’ are well and truly gone.

Additive manufacturing in the form of 3D Printing and a new approach to design development has made way for parts to be designed by the pupils for the projects they are making. Simply by making specifically designed parts, e.g. a speaker holder, battery compartment and head phone wrap, the pupils have really had to design and go through a development process with more rigor than in the past where everything was just put inside a box that was oversized.

Projects shapes are now more appealing to the eye and function better because stock size materials have not been the starting point for the design.  The starting point is now a thorough product disassembly of standard components so that the pupils’ projects function around the parts of a product that cannot be changed.

Blue Foam and Traditional hand Tools 

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Using the context of a docking station.

Many pupils in the past have soldered together their pre bought Amp Kits, put the PCB in ‘the box’ and then glued the speakers to the back of a laser cut piece of acrylic so that a speaker grill was produced.

There is a real lack of design with this approach because the speakers were just smeared with epoxy resin and fixed to the acrylic with no real design taking place with regard to fixing the speaker properly or designing something around the speaker itself.

My simple strategy now is to give the pupils a speaker, a chunk of blue foam and access to a selection of traditional hand tools.  The pupils must make a shape that fits the speaker perfectly first, and then focus on shaping more of the foam so that the speaker holder has aesthetic appeal.  (Photo of a speaker inside blue foam)


  1. The pupil drills a hole in a piece of foam with a forstner bit that is large enough to take the magnet of the speaker.
  2. Then the foam is cut through the centre of the hole to give two symmetrical parts.
  3. More foam is removed so the speaker can fit in either piece of foam.
  4. The two halves are glued back together do the rest of the shaping can take place.

When sticking blue foam together we use ‘Gorilla Glue’.  One half of the foam has the Gorilla Glue on, the other is wet with a damp paper towel.  The two halves are held together with masking tape until the glue has set.

Once the speaker is in the foam, and the rest of the foam has been shaped sufficiently, the model is then carefully drawn on a 3D CAD Package (we use Autodesk Inventor) so that a 3D prototype can be printed.

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Final Assembly

Once specific parts have been 3D printed and developed you will be in a position where you will have an attractive holder/stand for your speaker, a battery compartment, head phone wrap and even a phone holder.  The temptation here might still be to make a box to put these things on to so the PCB can be hidden within the box.

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To get around this issue I have had some great products made where pupils have simply layered up some laser cut 5mm acrylic with compartments made by removing sections to hold a PCB and battery.  This can be done by using just four layers of acrylic so that the final product remains compact.  To develop the product further I have added a simple PIC circuit in the acrylic case so that a pattern of flashing LEDs can be seen as the MP3 docking station is working.

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Misuse of 3 Printing

When people first get a 3d printer there is a temptation to print anything and everything you can.  Mostly commonly I see iPhone cases or Eiffel Towers from an STL download site used in the first instance.

The real fun and excitement though comes from printing your own 3d parts that you have designed for a purpose; this is where the real learning will take place for the pupils too.  Many teachers I speak to worry about the time it takes for a product to get printed. I can see their point as some large parts may take 4-5 hours to print.  Whilst this seems slow going at first, once the initial excitement for printing Eiffel Towers has died down, you will be surprised how straight forward it is to get classes to have 3d printed parts.

Within a Year 11 class it is unlikely that every pupil will be ready at the same time to print a part out, this already paces the process for you.

Then within a class there are the ‘super keen’ that will come and see you in the morning before school or at the end of the day to ask if they can print out their STL file.  Since you can leave the printer running during the day or overnight it is as if GCSE work is being produced without the mess and chaos that can take place when a whole class are manufacturing in a workshop.  I was surprised myself at how easy it was to get through heavy use of a 3d printer with Year 11 this year.  Most prints were added in the morning and end of school, with very few being set up in lesson time. This has worked with the three classes, 60 Year 11 Product Design students all printing roughly three parts each.

Once you are used to using 3d printing in projects it can be easy to over use the printer and neglect the traditional skills that encouraged us all to start teaching Design and Technology in the first place.  I think 3d printing is exciting and leads to amazing looking and functional projects, but I do believe it should be used when needed rather than needed to be used because it is there.  My advice would be to start by printing a part for a project, rather than printing a project.

As many of you will know I manage the Facebook Group ‘Design and Technology Teachers’ and the ‘DTResources Dropbox’.  I spend hours per week managing both of these resources and look at 100s of examples of classroom resources that teachers either sell or share via social media.

I feel that I have a good idea of what useful resources teachers would like if they had the time to make them and I am aware of some of the current issues that some departments face e.g. not having a full time technician or non-specialists teaching Design and Technology.

Since having a baby seven months ago, I find myself going to bed very early, and then getting up VERY early the day after.  These early starts have provided me with many hours of time to spend producing resources that I will use with my own classes, and will then give away or sell on the dtresources website.

I have always liked the idea of giving resources away, and will continue to do so if the resources can be downloaded as a PDF or JPEG for example.  The resources that will be sold have to have a price attached to them to cover the purchasing of materials, business running costs, website hosting and a small fee for my time in making, packaging and posting resources out to teachers….all of which is very time consuming.

It is my aim for the company to grow so that complete curriculum coverage can be planned for by using the resources from my website.

The other resources that will be available from will help improve whole class teaching on topics such as drawing/sketching and annotation of ideas.  The class stencils that I have made came about from pupils in my class using a popular 3D drawing tool, but then wanted a stencil to help with 2D designing and annotation.  So far these stencils have really helped improve the quality of the work from the pupils in my class.  Click here to see the stencils.

Because I teach mostly AQA GCSE Product Design, the resources will be suited to delivering Product Design, Resistant Materials and KS3 Design and Technology. On the GCSE Product Design Exam paper, there is always a high mark question about manufacturing in quantity.  I have produced a class pack for teaching batch production/production lines and use clocks or photo frames as the product.  The outcomes have been outstanding.  Click here to see the products.

The next phase of the company will be to provide whole class kits to cover every part of the curriculum in an exciting and engaging way.

Getting started with 3D Printing in the classroom.

‘Keep the old, but in with the new’ – that is pretty much what it is like being a Design & Technology Teacher, and it is pretty much how I like it 🙂


I am 35 years old, I am in my 14th year as a DT Teacher and my 11th year as Head of Department.  Whilst planning how to start this blog post I had a think back to what I loved about DT when I first walked into a workshop as a Year 7 pupil in 1991.  Mostly it was the smell of timber and coolant from either the lathe or milling machine, the selection of tools neatly in the racks, just waiting to shape my piece of raw material into something, that at the time I thought was magical…most probably a pencil holder.

I think I have had a selection of some truly amazing teachers that inspired me to become a DT Teacher myself.  I always though that if I enjoyed coming to DT lessons as much as I did, then what a truly amazing job being a DT Teacher would be!  I feel that during my secondary school and college years I was taught DT in a very traditional way.  I think I gained a solid understanding about shaping/joining timber, plastics and metals using most methods known.

I then went to Sheffield Hallam University to continue building on my current knowledge, but developed new skills using PIC technology/electronics and CADCAM.  At the time ProDesktop was just making its way into schools and 3D printers had not even been thought of.

I would say that I have had to learn as many new skills since starting as a teacher as I knew to begin within 2001.  Whilst some skills I have been taught over the years are not used much at my school, such as welding/aluminium sand casting, I still think it is important to know these skills as it is more the lacking of facilities/curriculum time that prevent me teaching this to pupils rather than a desire to keep the knowledge from them.

Sheets + Planks (can) = Boxes

I can only speak of and criticise my own practice, but since most of the material that we buy in my department comes in sheets and planks, it is no wonder that lots of the pupils end up making something that resembles a box.  Don’t get my wrong, they have been mighty fine boxes…they have been Memphis Clocks, Art Deco MP3 docking stations, De Stijl lamps and desk tidies, whilst I’ve been very proud of them, they have been boxes at heart.  If ever a pupil wanted to make something that looked more organic (heaven forbid), we have done so,  but we have wasted quite a lot of material by layering up, sanding away and discarding sometimes as much material as we end up with!

I am sure that because I encourage my pupils to sketch in an isometric style using the method of crating as a starting point….they already have a box drawn on the page…they then have the design problem of sketching something for their MP3 player PCB/Battery to go in….why re-invent the wheel, when you have just drawn a perfectly good box?  As far as I am concerned, I need to change my mind-set and teaching strategy to overcome the production of boxes and plan how to teach the pupils to consider 3D printing as the method of manufacture!

A New Mind-set GCSE 3D Printing

Since this blog post is about getting started with 3D Printing, you should be able to see part of an MP3 Prototype that a pupil I teach has made.  They started off by designing with blue foam rather than sketching.  The pupil who made this model drew round his battery, PCB and speaker on the blue foam, then set to work shaping it with a coping saw and sander.  The shape he has ended up with is far removed from a traditional box.  In the past when pupils have made an MP3 docking station they have made an attractive pine box, used dowel to join the corners, turned aluminium feet to hold it off the table top, they have laser cut some acrylic sheet to cover the front, and cut out a decorative pattern from the acrylic so that when the speaker has been glued behind, you can hear the sound from the box.

GCSE Product Design

The photo of this GCSE project scored a moderated 32 marks for the practical aspect of the course.  It is made up from boxes within a box :-).  Its function is an MP3 Player, Clock and Storage unit. It measures 600x600mm and is 80mm deep, huge for the function really, but well made and finished, very typical of the project type that many of my pupils have made.

This year though, we have 3D printers!  The projects the pupils are making are looking far more professional and more like the size of the mass produced type found on sale.  At my school we use Autodesk Inventor as our main 3D CAD software.  The pupils all know that if they can draw it, they can make it, so I guess that in getting started with 3D Printing, you need to have got started with 3D CAD first. (You can download lots of free STL files to print, but the pupils will learn far more if they draw, and print their own work.)

How to Design for 3D Printing

There is nothing wrong with sketching and then drawing from a sketch to a CAD package.  From past experience though, if I have ever sat with a pupil and helped them draw something on Autodesk, that has started off as a sketch, I have always found that even the most able of pupils have missed off some dimension that leaves you guessing how big part of a drawing is going to be.  To fix this, I get all pupils to start with a 3D sketch, then make a full sized 3D blue foam/card model of the final sketch.  Once the pupil is happy with the final model I get them to sit at a PC with Autodesk loaded up, a ruler and some digital callipers.

I either get them to start with a profile drawing that can be extruded (depending on what they have designed), or they will start by drawing a block that was the same size as the original piece of blue foam.  It is then just a matter of careful measuring to remove the parts of ‘foam’ that you no longer need.  As long as a pupil can draw using a revolve and do simple extrusions to add/cut material they can pretty much draw most things they want to make.

What to print

When we got our first 3D Printer, it was an Up 2 Plus.  The first thing I did was download an STL file from a sharing site for a pencil pot.  Twelve hours later the print was done!  Since then I have learnt more about the software settings and could print the pencil pot in about 4 hours :-).  The main concern I had was how to get the pupils excited about designing for 3D printing, if I knew that I could never do 4 hour prints for each of them….then I had a brain wave!  I thought let’s get them to make a key ring!  I assume that most DT teacher have either made an acrylic Key ring themselves, or have taught pupils to cut/shape/polish acrylic key rings in their own workshop at some point?  After I had designed my key ring and printed it in just 8 minutes I thought that I was onto a winner!Up Plus 2

After a practice at making some key rings for most people I knew, I had time to reflect on what a poor idea this actually was.  In a way, I was still stuck in my old mind set of 3D printing something that I would normally be made from acrylic sheet (not that I make key rings anymore).

Whilst I think that 3D printing is amazing, I think that the real learning takes place with the designing, either on paper or screen.  The pupil actually learns very little seeing their design being made.  It is the thrill of getting your design printed that is the reward for designing something brilliant!

Now I encourage pupils to design with plasticine and blue foam, to look at images from nature and biomimicry design in a hope they will produce something a little more Zaha Hadid than Rubik’s Cube.

I am sure that my current Year 10 Product Design class will make their fair share of pine boxes for their desk tidy/MP3 player/lamps, but I hope to encourage them to ‘think outside the box’ (haha), and design maybe an exciting phone holder/headphone wrap or draw handle that could not be made in any other way other than to 3D print it!

3D Printing has made my Day

Thank you to all that read my blog, and continue to do so, even though I’ve not posted for a while! Not so long ago my wife and I had a baby….not quite as easy to find time to sit writing these days, but after seeing an article online about some work I have been doing with 3D printers, I have decided to get back on WordPress and will continue to do so when I can. As well as writing about some general educational issues that are general and can be viewed by all….this post is very much related to my subject, Design and Technology….and my latest passion, 3D Printing. If you are a DT Teacher, and are reading this without having a 3D Printer in your department….please please please do all you can to get one! For years I have been putting large bids together to increase the size of my department capitation so that I can fill my stock room full of material for the pupils at my school to use.  Most materials come as flat sheets, bars, tubes or have been bags of small electronic components.  Since getting a laser cutter 3 years ago, I’d guess I’ve spent a fortune on acrylic sheet, I have no idea how we coped without a laser cutter, and at the time I can honestly say it changed my life!  New possibilities came with the laser cutter, crazy shapes and intricate designs could now be cut….things that a hack saw, wet and dry paper and a bit of T-Cut would not allow! I look back at the projects I have made with pupils, some getting the top marks available for GCSE controlled assignment….they all have one thing in common….lots of flat sides and box like constructions (no wonder really when most of the material I bought had a stock form of a flat sheet!) Only too often did a pupil design something that was unique and organic, then to be told, ‘that is great, but is hard to make, so…..lets make it like this’  the poor pupil would more than likely be able to have some curvy/organic part to their work, as long as it was stuck on a box 😦 Now that we have 3D Printers, all that has changed! My new saying is….’If you can think it, we can draw it….and yes! You can make it!’ (As long as it fits in a 3D Printer :-)) The school I work at is a teaching school (St James’s C of E High School, Bolton), through the teaching school I was able to get some funding to buy a 3D Printer and have some time to learn to use the CAD software.  I use Autodesk, but many are available. Just before Christmas many teachers braved the cold to attend a twilight CPD session I ran, to read more about the session there is an article available via the link below from 3D The article was written by @ladybridgeDT Phil Cotton, (3dprintshow winner 2013 and 2014 educational excellence award for 3dprinting.) There are many pros and cons to any method of manufacturing, and don’t think that 3D Printing is not without its issues….it is.  But after a bit of tweaking and patience, it is well worth investing time and money in.  Some pupils laugh when I tell them that their print will take 6 hours to make, but they soon smile when they know that their work is being made overnight and will be ready to see in the morning! If you are interested in 3D Printing and would like any help, please get in touch with me, and also check out Phil’s website,

The less teachers talk, the more pupils learn @jackiebeere @teachertoolkit

A couple of years ago @jackiebeere came to do a presentation at my school, this was soon after her book ‘the perfect Ofsted lesson’ came out.  I’m not on commission….but since it is a great read you can get it from the link here:

One piece of advice that she gave was to try to aim for a teacher input of 20% and a pupil engagement of 80%. Many of you will have heard of the 80/20 split in many different situations,  “It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population.

It was after Jackie’s presentation that I started to look at the clock in my room, so many times I have been guilty of standing there…..leaning on my whiteboard….and talking for up to 20 minutes – before I would unleash the pupils to actively learn.  I am even more ashamed that I am a Design and Technology, a teacher of a practical subject, where all the pupils say to me is ‘can we just get on with it Sir?’  Once a pupil even turned his stool round to face me, stretched his legs and leaned back to rest on his table, when I asked him why he was sat like that, he replied ‘I’m just getting comfy Sir before you start!’  Whilst this pupil was being polite (I think), it did make me realise that things have got to change and I need to reconsider my approach to the way I deliver my lessons.

I am going to list a few practical ways that I have adopted to ensure that the pupils do more work than me in the lesson, not only do I think the pupils are learning more, but I feel that I have more time in my lessons to speak to the pupils on a one-to-one basis, more time to assess their work with them and to ask really focussed questions that are pitched to the correct level of their ability….ensuring that each pupil is challenged.

  1. I use Solo Taxonomy in many of my lessons, I split the levels on learning/understanding into the five  Solo structures.  I write the different levels of learning/understanding on five post-it notes and stick each note in an envelope.  I have lots of envelops with the pictures of the Solo Structures on the front. (Go on twitter and search #Soloarmy for examples).  I then hand the envelopes out to various pupils as they come into my room, the lesson then starts with them opening the envelopes and reading out the differentiated learning objectives.  I use this envelop technique a lot, the pupils love opening them.  Sometimes they will contain instructions to share with their tables, instructions on how to peer assess, how to pack up work, sometimes I put instructions in so that the pupils lead a practical demonstration….rather than me. The envelopes could contain anything that you would normally stop a class for.  Do try it and comment on here what you have done with the envelopes!
  2. An amazing idea from @teachertoolkit – Homework.  Homework is often an issue.  Either because it is time consuming to think of what to set or time consuming explaining how to do it.  I think that if you add up the time a teacher spends setting homework and explaining it, over a day, a week, a month, a year….it would be a shocking amount of time that not only a class is stopped for, but how long they have stopped learning for.  @teachertoolkit came up with the idea of take-away homework.  I now have a take-away style homework menu up in my room with 50 different homeworks on.  I spent about 30 minutes making the poster (it can be found on my blog).  The pupils now just get given a time slot in the lesson where they go to the take-away and pick which one they want to use….they love it.  Now my whole class carry on working whilst each table simply goes over to the large A1 poster and picks a homework.  I usually write on my board, Table 1, 9.00 am, Table 2, 9.10 am etc. etc.
  3. On a laser cutter I made a class set of Red and Green discs, they look like poker chips from a casino, but are red on one side and green on the other.  The pupils simply have these in front of them and flip them back and forth during the lesson to show their understanding.  I always say that the discs are for them, rather than me.  If a pupil turns their disc to red, a pupil with a green chip must try and help them.  Again this is something that all pupils seem to like from Year 7 to 11.
  4. Exit cards are in a small box in the middle of the table (this is where I also keep the red/green chips), the pupils answer some simple questions on the cards and hand them to me as they leave.  I change the questions every few weeks to keep them interested.  Typical questions could be, ‘what have you learnt today?’ ‘have you enjoyed the lesson?’ ‘on a scale of 1 -10, were you challenged enough?’ ‘what do you think we will learn next lesson?’ I then use the feedback to inform the way I deliver my lesson next time.
  5. I have a Solo Taxonomy Continuum line on the wall in my classroom.  After the learning objectives have been read out, (by the pupils), I get the class to write their name on a post-it and stick it on the line.  During the lesson, without me saying so, they can go and move their post-it as they feel they make progress.  It is great to take a quick picture of the post-its on my phone at the start of the lesson, and then at the end.  I email the pictures from my phone to my work email and stick them on the interactive whiteboard for the class to see….whilst they fill out their exit tickets.  A great way to keep the class motivated by sharing the progress with them.

All these resources take a bit of time to make and set up, but once you get the pupils in a routine the lessons pretty much run themselves!  My last 6 lessons have been graded as outstanding, both by Ofsted and in school.  I truly believe that to be outstanding you need routines that the pupils know.  It would be a shambles if you had no routines that promoted learning through a teacher talking less, and then shocked the pupils by copying all the things I’ve written about here simply because you know you are being observed.  Forget observations, plan outstanding lessons for the pupils, get your routines right and let the pupils lead the learning.


Please comment on this blog if you have any other good tips for me to try, or if you use any of my ideas.


Thank you.


50 Strategies for Differentiation

How can we put policy into practice?

50 Strategies for Differentiation
from the amazing teachers at Greenford High School

shared at Teaching and Learning Takeover
at Southampton University 19th November 2013

Get the basics right: CONSISTENCY
1. Exercise Books – organisation
2. Exercise Books – meaningful marking, with DIRT – Dedicated Improvement and Response Time
3. Seating plans with info relevant to students’ needs
4. Get to know your students as well as possible
5. Show them you care, ask about their lives, remember their replies
6. Use the behaviour management systems of the school

Obvious, but often ignored
7. Grouping
8. Re-arranging tables in a room
9. Teacher position in classroom
10. Schemes of work with challenge at different levels
11. Homework booklets adapted for a range of abilities
12. Clear coherent planning to teach what is really important, not a moment wasted
13. Listen to your students during the lesson and change your plans accordingly

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