How do you teach Makerbotting?

This past summer I got the go-ahead to purchase a Makerbot Replicator for school. Not only was it necessary for some 3D printing workshops hosted on campus, but I figured there would only be more interest in 3D printing from students.

the thing-o-matic and replicator
TOM and Replicator–BFFs

I was totally right about that.

There’s been a cadre of 5th grade boys visiting the library during study halls and activity periods to print something on the Makerbot.  What have we printed?  Creepers from Minecraft, a model of an iPhone, a Camaro.

These kids think the Makerbot is awesome and a little bit of magic.  It is truly endearing that they want a tangible object that represents their interests and passions.  But a transaction that goes something like this bothers me:

Kid:  “What can I print out on the Makerbot?”

Me:  “Have you had a chance to use Tinkercad or 3DTin yet?”

Kid:  “No.  What’s the site I can go to if I want to print out something from the internet?”

Me:  “You mean Thingiverse?”

Kid:  “Yeah, that’s it.”  [Runs off to find a file to print for instant gratification]

That’s not really how I want to do things, and it’s not the way it should be done.

Andrew tweeted this today:

It really hit on what I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.  The Replicator and Thing-o-matic really are the first exposure to 3D printing for most of these kids.  Thingiverse and the assortment of tsotchkes on display is an effective way to catch someone’s attention.  However, I feel like Thingiverse is in danger of turning these kids into consumers rather than makers.

Things made with the Makerbot


I was thinking about banning Thingiverse prints, but at the end of the day, that restriction doesn’t sit well with me.  Maybe having the kid take the time to reflect on a Thingiverse model would work.  What’s interesting about the design?  If the kid was designing something similar, what would he/she do differently?  It would be ideal if a student actually observed a print so that he/she could learn from some of the frustration and/or troubleshooting that goes into printing.  The structure of the middle school schedule doesn’t necessarily allow for that though.

Next week I’m usurping Carolyn’s 5th grade library classes to formerly introduce the Replicator, Tinkercad, and 3DTin.  I’ve been pushing Tinkercad and 3DTin with my 5th grade regular, but I’m hoping that this hands-on class time and opportunity to work with each other will really get them interested in designing their own things.


2 thoughts on “How do you teach Makerbotting?

  1. Thank you for taking the time for this post. This crucial disconnect, between the printer’s ability to produce things and our desire for students to make things, was hard to discuss at MakerFaire.

    In part thats because the population had self selected. It’s also because the best activities were timed and structured around a “make and take” experience. The only youth-oriented 3d modeling/design workshop was run at the Cognizant booth, and @jaymesdec lamented that there was at least one kid in tears that he couldn’t leave the booth with his print. That’s not a slight against Jaymes, Cognizant, the design or the workshop or the frustrated kid! Rather, it’s my marker for the big challenge – when time is a constraint, we often have to make a choice between having a tangible product and providing a meaningful learning experience. I know why we sometimes choose the former as a intro step, hoping the plastic doodads will generate interest throughout the community. But the message those Thingiverse toys spread seems to be “there’s a box that prints toys” rather than “I can create my own toys.”

    The 3D printing teachers I talked to this weekend seemed to have the most success when students could use the modeling tools outside of class, and then bring them in for guided printing. Time is still a factor, both on the rendering computer and the printer itself, but less so. It also provides a way to incentivise original creation ; run a two-layer queue, where any original model is automatically placed ahead of every Thingiverse print.

    But those are small cranks on student behavior. The larger challenge is to tie the “tech stuff” of the Maker movement into the visual literacy and creative imagination of students. Maybe a library challenge for the best model from a particular YA book series? A shelf of honor for anyone that tackles Vampirates! Tim’s chess set project is a bit large for middle school, but the act of re-skinning or re-theming a common set of objects with something personal/nerdy/obscure is a great hook.

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Educational Experience Design

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