Which projects to tackle with Makerspace students? We focussed on 3D printing (because those machines arrived first) and encouraging the quick turn-around ethos. We want projects that can be completed within 90 minutes and are engaging. For now, our mantra is “what you have at the end of the session is what gets printed.” We want to ingrain that the best way of figuring out good solutions is to quickly try out the ideas you have to see where the challenges are. For longer courses we’ll evolve into taking time to work on more in-depth projects. Working to deadlines is a important life skill, so our mantra has a second purpose of reinforcing the importance of getting work done in the time available. Of course, before assigning projects, facilitators should attempt them and identify the challenges that you haven’t thought of yet.
1) Quick Intro to 3D
The free iPad app 123D Creature has a intuitive interface and high school students can create creatures without prior experience in a 90 minute session. Students export their creatures via email for printing. This was our gambit for easy early success before picking up less constrained CAD tools. Printing the models took some finessing because many of the creatures had spindly legs. These kept breaking when the printer nozzle bumped them on the way past. We suspect we need extra cooling fans to eliminate some of the curl-up we get when printing overhangs. Next time, we will encourage students to create creatures with thicker legs and feet.
We had planned on the students writing about their creature and how its features adapted it to its (imaginary) environment. Thus we could integrate writing, biology and critical thinking into the project. But only one student finished their creature with time to spare. This writing could possibly move into a homework component.
2) Tinkercad: Tutorials and Dice
The second day, students learned Tinkercad. This is a free, lightweight computer-aided design (CAD) software that runs in a web browser. Their training consisted of making an account, then working through the site’s tutorial lessons. These are step by step and easy to follow. Twenty minutes before the end of class, we asked students make a customized die with their initials on the sides. One of the tutorial lessons does a similar thing, and we wanted to have the students have a custom product to print.
3) Low Risk Collaboration Project: Potato Head Accessories
The first real open project was making parts to stick into a real potato. This allows students to:
- Be artistically creative
- Collaborate by deciding aesthetic then parcelling out the parts
- Take risks because one student couldn’t derail the whole project if they didn’t produce for some reason
- Use Tinkercad without a script
The only directions given was to make the attachment spikes using a cuboid 3mm x 5mm x 15mm, topped with a pyramid. This was to ensure sturdiness, something that had come to light during my own attempts. The students first chose their teams (pairs and trios) then had a quick discussion about aesthetics and who would build what parts. Within 90 minutes, all groups designed legs, arms, eyes, nose and mouth then also added extras like ears, glasses, mustaches and hats. Potatoes seem to last at least two weeks before they need replacing.
4) The Engineering Design Cycle
The maker’s guiding principle is quickly try out the ideas you have to see where the challenges are. For this to be useful, students need to reflect on the successes and needed improvements of their first attempts, then address those problems. This is the action-centric design cycle. A good solution is arrived at by repeatedly creatively building, testing and refining possible solutions until one works well enough. So, students wrote about their experiences and then designed a second round of parts. After receiving their parts and testing them, the students wrote again and designed for a third time. Their documentation of their work will appear as blog posts here. It is part of our goal to help students establish an online presence that consists of something more substantial than trivial social media musings etc.