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  • Writer's pictureTechnology in Education

Hook, Line and Tinkercad

Written by Guest Writer – Garreth Wigg

The idea of making anything using our 3D printers and building with Lego would send most K-6 students into bewildered excitement. Whenever I have jobs on the go, students flock to the printers and stare in amazement at the process occurring before them.

I recently had the pleasure of working with Year 3 on a project that focused on the properties of shapes, measurement, design, materials as well as persuasive techniques in language.

The design challenge was to plan, build and sell a new piece of Lego.

Students would create their own Lego kit that was ‘missing’ a piece that Lego had not yet designed. Their task was to create that new piece using a 3D printer and then ‘sell’ it to Lego through a persuasive pitch scenario, Shark Tank style.

I have sometimes found that teaching and learning aspects of 2D shapes and 3D objects can be a bit tricky to conceptualise and link to anything of real value to students. As an introduction, students were given a design challenge to construct and replicate particular objects with a limited amount of Lego. Questioning such as ‘what did we need?’ and ‘what could we have built if…?’ was a great way to lead into the design brief.

Before students started working on their Lego design, I assigned them the task of designing and building a simple bubble wand. This allowed students the chance to sandbox and become familiar with the TinkerCAD interface and its tools. The amount of printer filament needed for this was quite minimal and students were excited to be taking home a product they had designed and share their excitement with peers.

Measuring individual Lego bricks and Lego creations I had pre-made, students could demonstrate their prior knowledge of measurement, shape and object recognition. This assessment of knowledge and understanding informed me of what specific concepts students needed to be introduced to in order to broaden their depth and understanding.

When students looked really closely at the Lego, they were quite astonished by the intricacies and precision of the pieces.

The focus on formal units of measurement, the need for precise measurement and the tools we use to measure really enhanced students’ engagement.

With pre-planning involved, I made sure to have designs pre-built that were ‘off’ by 1 or 2mm, to show how only the slightest error can result in a design success or failure. Investigation was undertaken about the types of pieces Lego has already created, with students asked to consider why particular parts are more popular than others. This, along with the design process and their reasoning for the creation of their new Lego piece, formed the basis for their Shark Tank presentation.

The presentation itself was to be completed in 2-4 minutes and students were allowed to use any tools at their disposal for the presentation. Students spent time working on their scripts, which was a great chance to develop stronger literacy skills. Initially, students were disheartened when their designs did not print as they had hoped. Having students believe that I was more interested in the process, not the success of the final product took some time for students to grasp, especially for the perfectionists amongst the cohort.

Some technical FYI:

  1. We use the browser-based service TinkerCAD for prototyping and creating 3D models. It has a very simple interface and entry-level ease of use, with account setup being super easy if students already have a Google account. Students access this via Chromebooks.

  2. We have access to two 3D printers, both of which have a maximum build volume of 120 x 120 x 120mm. This proved to be adequate for the projects and designs we have undertaken over the last two years. We use the UP Mini 3D printer which has proven to be a very reliable and user-friendly machine.

  3. Students upload their .STL file in Google Classroom. This allows easy access for me when viewing and/or printing their work.

  4. When printing, import the print file into the UP printing software on an iMac. The accompanying UP software is very user-friendly and intuitive.

  5. I tried to make sure that student pieces were kept to a surface area of 9cm2, to print multiple jobs at a time

UP Mini 3D printer

Some considerations for next time :

  1. Making sure students can log into TinkerCAD and their Google accounts in a timely manner

  2. Model and allow more time for peer feedback with their Lego kit creations

  3. Place less emphasis on a finished product and more emphasis on a believable prototype

  4. Raise the stakes a little and make the Shark Tank showcase of their work into a bit more of an event with invited guests, etc.

  5. A greater emphasis on persuasive language, listening, talking and body language

  6. I’d love to hear about how other K-6 teachers are using 3D printers in their teaching and learning. Anyone else 3D printing? Share your ideas, photos and more on Twitter & don’t forget to tag @MrGWigg.

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