When we first decided to build a makerspace and use 3D printers, one of the first things I thought about was how to get our youngest students (K-5) involved. Creating 3D models and printing them require a level of computer skill and spatial awareness that is beyond the abilities of most young children.
Even after a model has been created, printing it is an unfriendly process. An object file–a file that contains 3D geometry data–has to somehow be transferred to the host computer which runs the 3D printer. Typically is done by email or file transfer apps like Dropbox. Once on the host computer, a slicer program is needed to convert the object file into instructions the printer can understand, known as G-code. Depending on the model, adjustments might have to be made in the slicer software to create structural supports to prevent overhangs from sagging under their own weight.
That’s an awful lot to expect little kids to do. The creation process for them has to be fun and relatively effortless. It also must be something that comes natural to them, like drawing.
The creations should print quickly, too. Watching a 3D printer in action is almost hypnotic, but it won’t entertain a child forever. The sooner they can get their hands on their print, the sooner they can experience that “Wow” moment that hooks them into creating more.
A few weeks ago I came across a Kickstarter project that radically simplifies the drawing and printing process on 3D printers. The Doodle3D WiFi-Box runs a web app which allows you to sketch a drawing on a mobile device, and send the drawing directly to a 3D printer. No file transfer is necessary and the G-code conversion is done by the Doodle3D. All a student has to do is connect their mobile device to the WiFi network created by the Doodle3D, and go to draw.doodle3D.com. The drawing app opens in their browser, and off they go making their doodle.
This is a great solution for our young students and even for our staff members new to 3D design and printing. Our kids will quickly and easily create and print shapes, drawings, and words using our iPads. John Gomm, who teaches Upper Science and Math here at Garden Street Academy had a great idea that they can print shapes and use them as Play-Doh or Model Magic cutters. They can also create snowflakes and Christmas tree ornaments.
The Doodle3D WiFi-Box costs $115, and can be ordered from Grand St. We ordered one each for Fred and Wilma, our two MakerGear M2 3D printers. The Doodle3Ds arrived a couple days ago. We’ll start testing them out this week as soon as we get Fred and Wilma online and running smoothly.
Created in the spirit of making
What I love about Doodle3D is that it’s a perfect example of the new manufacturing revolution. The company’s lead founder, Rick Companje, runs a fab lab in the Netherlands. He and his small team came up with an idea to solve a problem by modifying and adding software to existing hardware.
They didn’t have to take out a huge loan to open and equip a new factory. Their initial fundraising goal on Kickstarter was a mere $50,000, and they ended up raising almost $74,000. Because they used a crowdfunding site, they were able test and create a market for their product with little risk.
I think it’ll prove a valuable lesson to our student’s that a very cool product that they’re using was created by a small team of creative and well-educated people. Useful innovation isn’t limited to big companies like Apple and Samsung. If students are motivated and realize that their education creates opportunity, they too can change the world.