We were very fortunate (and totally thrilled!) to get a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer recently as part of the Makerbot Academic Initiative (https://www.makerbot.com/academy/). As it turns out, the printer arrived in time for American Education Week; it, understandably, attracted a LOT of attention among our visitors. I sensed an opportunity to capitalize on that interest and decided to encourage students and parents to work together on 3D designs at home, then send me the .STL files to print. This has turned out to be a great strategy that has created a ton of excitement among my elementary students and their families.
We began by encouraging parents and students to explore the free and fabulous Tinkercad.com website together. (I wrote this blog post to get them started: http://blogs.ncs-nj.org/k4stemlab/?cat=6162). Almost immediately, designs started to filter in, along with stories of parents and students working together to bring design ideas to life. One child in particular, a first grade girl, has been especially productive; she's designed several models, including these two:
Snowflake Treehouse: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/11465843846/
Designs like these have provided great opportunities for us to explore the capabilities (and limitations) of 3D printing. Buzz among parents has skyrocketed as brainstorming kids have spent hours of quality time together with parents. We even provided instructions on how to use the insanely popular Minecraft program to create 3D designs:
Here are a few of those creations:
For those who have a 3D printer and are interested in promoting further exploration of 3D design at home, I also recommend Blokify for the iPad:
and, for the more adventurous, Sketchup (it's a professional-grade design tool best suited to older learners):
Note, however, that you will need a plugin to get the .STL file out of Sketchup. Information on that is available here: https://github.com/SketchUp/sketchup-stl.
Our 3D printer has generated more interest and curiosity than any other single technology we have ever implemented in my classroom. By actively encouraging kids to work with their parents using these tools at home, we have leveraged that interest to strengthen the school-home connection and laid the groundwork for many exciting new learning activities!