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Beyond “College Ready”…

Posted in 3D Printing, and EdTech Musings

Like many mornings around my house, this day I woke with a project in mind. Today, it was all about our 3D printer. I was determined to get this @Monoprice Select Mini v.2 back in action. I 💖 this little printer and was ready to see it humming along again. You see… it was experiencing a temporary death. It’s print bed was no longer heating. I’m not sure if it was I who caused it or just fate, but the printer was out of commission. I was not thinking about preparing my students for life this morning, but ultimately it came to me that my little 3D project actually is doing just that. In its short life, this little printer has printed some amazing items and has seriously stole the hearts of my students. Though we are currently distracted by our “next” project, my class is missing 3D printing. They are ready for it to be back online and so am I. For me, the teacher, this printer represents so much more than just fun in which the students fondly call it.

Ready for it to be back online.

Where did it all begin? In the grand scheme of things, I blame my Twitter #PLN, but especially my good friend, Jesus Huerta. (@jesush1979) You see, he is that guy that imagines the impossible, pushes the boundaries, shares it on social media, and makes you believe you, too, can… and so you DO! So I did! I bought a 3D printer, took it to my classroom and my students and I were immediately hooked! Ok it was not really his fault that our printer was now not working, but it was he who got me absolutely excited about 3D printing and convinced me of the value of doing this with my students.

Like many, I believed two things about 3D printers. First, I knew NOTHING about them and they were complicated and second, they’re expensive and I had NO extra time. Was that two or four things? Ah anyway. It was true I knew nothing about them prior to this school year. Fact! But… that truly is the best part about technology right now. It has hit its stride in being user friendly. So many applications are easy to learn and out-of-the-box ready to roll. The only thing needed is a willingness to accept the challenge and you WILL learn it. That was the case with our printer. For $189.00 on Amazon, it shipped in a couple of days and was printing in just the amount of time it took to cut off the tape, pull it out of the box and plug it in. But the lessons had just begun.

You see, yes, it was out of the box ready… but I still had NO experience. Let the failing ensue. By the way… failing, struggle, frustration, anger, the desire to quit ALL happened very soon after getting the printer running AND is the #1 reason why I believe 3D printing has such an important role in education. Jesus lead the way with a bar set high. I took the challenge… the first important lifeskill. What followed (along with a slough of negative) was an incredible list of soft skills that EVERY employer is looking for in their future workforce. Though my students and I knew nothing, we learned. On the path of learning, we organically also boned up on an amazing list of soft skills:

  • problem solving
  • adaptability
  • critical observation
  • decision making
  • written and spoken communication
  • complex information processing
  • teamwork
  • conflict resolution

I say we because it was definitely a collaborative activity. There was NO expert in the room. We were in it together, struggling, researching, failing, and succeeding. Huge important skills for students today to acquire. I recently read an article, “15 Mind-Blowing Stats About The Future of Work” by Giselle Abramovich. A few that really hit home:

  • 65% of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that do not currently exist!
  • The demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the US and 22% in Europe.
  • 1.4 million open computing jobs by 2020 with only 400K grads to fill them.
  • Demand for higher cognitive skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing will also grow significantly.

The fact that students are mostly concerned with building their Gen-Z vocabulary (check THIS out if you want to improve yours-highly recommended) and are clueless about growing incredibly important lifeskills, does not negate my responsibility as an educator to provide them every opportunity possible to grow these essential skills. We talk about preparing students to be college ready… We really need to focus on the life beyond college. 3D printing can play a significant role in this preparation.

So how can everyday classrooms use 3D printing and how do you get started? Let’s tackle the first question, first. Every subject and nearly every grade can 3D print. For as little as $50, students as young as kinder can be printing. Check out this recent amazing example posted on Twitter by Ben Cogswell (@cogswell_Ben) using 3Doodler to print site words. Give them a few years and they can be 3D printing dragons and creating whole story lines to go with them!

Check out THIS project noted in an article by Karen Kane where students are designing custom artwork frames. Soft skills are a bonus on this project. Math, specifically Geometry, can not be avoided in the successful completion of this project. Students will not be watching the clock AND will be learning their “standards”.

Credit: Dremel Dreams, created by O’Donnell Learn

Math has many applications, but sometimes it is even more rewarding to post an open-ended challenge. My students are currently tasked with creating a mock Roman Chariot that they will be racing. Their “chariot” is a @Sphero robot! They will have to race under the “same” conditions as the Romans did and must build a “chariot” that will retain ALL its parts for seven full laps. Some of my students concerned about having wheels that last have requested to design and 3D print their wheels. Their thoughts, their designs, their request. Powerful learning. Here’s 10 more examples of cross-curricular lessons for 3D printing by TinkerCAD. Check out the Great Wall of China Watchtowers! Imagine the learning when connecting a project that the students actually design on their own.

Getting Started

It is not FREE getting started, but it is VERY affordable. As mentioned above, for under $200 you can pick up a Monoprice Select Mini v2 that has all the power you need getting started. Careful though, it is a rabbit hole that you WILL certainly dive into once the bug has bit you! Students can create accounts on Tinkercad for free to design and create their own ideas. Tinkercad integrates with Google and is compatible with Chromebooks. Students can also go to the amazing world of Thingiverse where there are literally thousands available for download! Also for free. Some would say, “there is NO learning in allowing students to download another’s design.” I would say, “welllllll, not totally true.” While yes, it is important to learn the skills needed to design, it is equally important for them to see what others have created, get inspired by them, and then be motivated to “tweak” into a design of their own! Also needed are a couple of basics. Your printer will come with a USB connection cord, a SD card, and is also wifi compatible. What I found to be the simplest is the SD card, but that too came with some learning challenges. The SD card has little room on it and you will be tempted to purchase another. Do NOT do what I did and go out and purchase an expensive SD card that has tons of room. I learned the hard way that many are incompatible. A solid search of Google will render results from the pros who can steer you in the right direction before purchasing additional SD cards. I have gotten really good at saving to the SD card that came with the printer, printing, then deleting the file to make room. 💖

The last bit of understanding is the path to the file type needed for printing. It’s going to get a little geeky here, but I will do my best to keep it simple. The Monoprice Select Mini v2 reads what is called a .gcode file. That is the extension at the end of the file name and without being that type, the printer will not recognize the file. Tinkercad saves files with a couple of extensions, but .stl is the one you want. Export the file as an .stl. Then you will upload that file into what is called the slicer software. Cura is the slicer software that comes with the Monoprice printer and is free. I am using Simplify3D software, which costs $149 and has the ability to be downloaded onto two devices. As complicated as it sounds, in only a couple of tries, you and students will have it down. See the example here:

That really is all that is needed to get started. Yes, management is a consideration… time is challenging… and it is another thing you will be adding to your plate. But here is what I would say hands down without ANY hesitation… it IS worth it. It is a MUST that we change up the way we teach. We HAVE to let go of what we have traditionally done. We MUST make room for new and engaging activities that push students into developing those soft skills that employers will expect them to have. In that, we too, have to learn to stretch beyond our comfort and make room for change. Students #DeserveIt and as educators we are tasked with successfully preparing our students for their lives after college.

Oh… my project. I’m happy to share, we are back in production! 😁