Emerging Technologies Assignment – 3D Printing

Here is a link to the Lesson Plan I created revolving around the use of 3D printed architectural models for a 3rd grade class at the San Diego History Center.

I chose 3D printing as my topic for this assignment because I believe the technology provides new opportunities for enhancing education. 3D printing is the process of printing layers of material (typically, biodegradable plastic) to produce three-dimensional objects. According to the 2015 Horizon Report for K12, the time to adoption is 2-3 years away. Companies like Makerbot and Dremel are already developing curricula for STEM classes using 3D printing. In this lesson plan, I wanted to show how this technology can also be applied outside of STEM.

3rd graders at the San Diego History Center study the landmarks and buildings of Balboa Park as well as cartography. I noticed that although the students actually visit the landmarks in person, the buildings are so large and complex they often struggle to identify them and even recognize which building is which. The students are asked to create maps of the locations they visit each day, and the School in the Park (SITP) staff have observed that the students struggle with scale and proportion in their maps. We have sometimes used photos to remind the students what the buildings look like, but buildings are three-dimensional, so photos can be misleading.

I decided to create a 3D model of the first landmark the students encounter, the San Diego Natural History Museum. I used free browser-based software called TinkerCad, which allows users to design 3D objects from scratch or adapt objects others have created. Because there was no existing model of the San Diego Natural History Museum, I had to create it from scratch. Using simple block shapes and cylinders. TinkerCad takes some time to get used to, but after a while I became very comfortable with it. I used Google Earth Pro 3D measuring tools to measure the height and length of the building exterior. I also took photographs of the building from various angles to be able to construct my replica. The process took a very long time but the model slowly began to take shape (the model is accessible within the lesson plan).
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TinkerCad allows the user to zoom in very close, so it is possible to create a lot of detail on the model at a tiny scale. However, printing the model became problematic. The San Diego Downtown Library allows patrons to 3D print objects for free so I visited their Creator Space and talked to the volunteers about my model. I knew 3D printing objects with overhangs can create printing problems, so I had done my best to compensate for this issue, but the volunteers at the library also pointed out that most of the detail I had added would be almost imperceivable when printed at the size I intended to print it at. They showed me how to adjust the resolution of the print layers and we scaled the model up to twice its original size. The only issue with this change was that the printing time increased to three hours.

At approximately 2 and a half hours of printing I realized the extruder head of the printer (a Makerbot Replicator 2) was moving higher and higher up but no longer extruding any filament (PLA plastic). The printer had simply become clogged, a somewhat typical issue according to the volunteers at the library. Unfortunately for me, due to the nature of 3D printing, you can not really stop and restart where you left off. The printer does not know at what point the extruder failed and so the entire process needed to be started over. This seems to be one of the biggest issues with using 3D printers in STEM classes. Sadly, I did not have enough time to reprint the model this past weekend before this assignment was due but I do plan to follow through with the print as soon as I can.

Because the model printed just over half way, I was able to see what the volunteers were talking about with respect to the detail. Specifically, the depth of the windows was not great enough to produce shadows so it was hard to see them and certain sculptural relief details were lost in the printing process. I will be able to improve the design before reprinting and I think that is an important part of the 3D printing process. Even though the print failed, I learned a lot and it will help me to make better models in the future.
Click here to see a short video of the model being printed.

SAMR Model: Modification – Tech allows for significant task redesign.
Our students already made maps of Balboa Park but I believe that introducing 3D models of the buildings will have a profound impact on the class. In the lesson plan, I designed it so that the printed model size is use to determine the scale of the maps and the students must calculate the scale by measuring the model and the real world building (via Google Earth Pro). I believe this will help increase our students’ spatial awareness and cognitive maps of the park. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to become more familiar with the buildings themselves, seeing them from multiple angles in a more manageable size for third graders, and comparing different building models side by side. Ultimately, although the 3D model would enable our students to create more sophisticated and accurate maps, I don’t think I was able to reach the top tier of the SAMR model.

There are so many different directions to take 3D printing in education. Ideally, we would like to see our students using the printers to create objects for engineering projects. However, until 3D printers become more affordable and reliable I think the best use for them (if you have access) is to create educational objects that enhance learning. I really enjoyed this project and I am eager to learn more about 3D printing. To do so, I believe there is no better way than to become emerged in the process myself. I am currently requesting the purchase of a 3D printer for the SITP program.



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