Saturday, January 10, 2015

What can 3D printing do for my classroom?

This fall, I learned one of our local libraries has begun to offer 3D printing. I immediately wanted to find ways for my students to take advantage of this local resource. In late November, I visited the library to see it in action. I was hoping to print a bowtie, but we just couldn't get the printer's software to process the file. I settled on a small picture frame instead.
I'm planning to use the video and frame as part of a 3-Act Task: figuring the amount of time or filament needed to make the frame. I'm also going to work up a design challenge for some of my math students challenging them to create a nameplate in Tinkercad. The library will print the nameplates from the student designs.

As amazing and engaging as I think the library's 3D printer is, I didn't feel like a 3D printer had a place at our school. The library's printer does great work, but appeared to need a lot of attention. The printing plate needs to warm up and cool down between each print. Printed objects need to be scraped off the plexiglass with a razor. It seemed like each 3D print would take more preparation and supervision than we have time for at school.

The CubePro C is my dream machine!
Image from 3D Systems
After bringing up 3D printing on my Facebook wall, Clay Hanson, a friend in engineering shared a video with me, and gave me this list of requirements for a great 3D printer:
  1. Print volume that can print a basketball. (Most things you will print won't be bigger than that anyway)
  2. Heated build chamber. ABS shrinks as it cools. A heated chamber lessens this.
  3. ability to print multiple materials: PLA, ABS, PVA, Nylon, rubber material, metal filled PLA
  4. multi head for support material and multi colors.
  5. 50 microns or smaller resolution.
  6. Good software. Don't have a recommendation
  7. non proprietary filament. Proprietary filament is expensive and pointless. It's all the same.
It looks like there are some 3D printers that could provide an incredible experience for students. What could my students do with it in math and reading classes? How do I get one for my school? For now, I'll partner with the library for printing, but who knows what the future might hold? If you have ideas or experience with 3D printers that might help me, please tell me about it in the comments. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

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