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PC Load Letter: Not Anymore

Posted by on in Education Technology
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3d printing shapeways

"PC load letter?!" Can't say I've said that in a long time. I love G Suite for Education, so there is little need to get frustrated with the printer, let alone print things out. Unless that is, you want to print something with a 3D printer!

At the end of January, I wrote a grant for the Polar3D printer, and as luck would have it, I was fortunate enough to receive the grant. My Polar3D printer arrived in my classroom last week, and hopefully we will be printing tomorrow. Not only is this my sixth grade students' first opportunity to use a 3D printer, but it is also mine. So it is a very exciting time as my students and I explore this new piece of technology together. We are both learning so much already, but what I am seeing and learning from my students is incredible.

Students as engaged learners

Before allowing my students to print, I had my students go through the tutorial lessons on tinkercad.com which is the free, web based platform we will be using to create our 3D projects. There are six tutorials which take students through different parts of the design process. Some struggled, while some excelled, but every student was an engaged learner. They were hooked as soon as they saw the 3D printer in the classroom. So when they went through the tutorials, they were asking questions without any prompting and they were answering their classmates' questions without any prompting. 

Students becoming self-reflecting learners

Reflecting is not an easy thing to do, but it is a very important thing to do in the learning process. With this in mind, I created a collaborative Google Slide where they had to explain what they learned in the Tinkercad tutorials, then they had to give quality feedback to their their peers. Their reflections and feedback on their tutorial lessons were very honest and thoughtful. And because this was on a Google doc, they were continuing this after school, well into the night. I didn't even tell them they had to finish it for the next day. 

Students becoming creators

Spinners and fidget cubes were the first things my students asked if they could create. My answer was yes. If they could design one, they could print one. But I also challenged them to create something unique. Something they needed. Something that was personal to them. And what I was finding was that out of 29 students, I was seeing 29 different ideas! My students are not just settling for the ordinary but are looking to create something extraordinary. I was seeing things from unique smartphone stands to smartphone bracelets to personalized key chains to new designs that clip onto a desk and neatly hold multiple wires and devices. 

Students becoming designers

With their designs in mind, next came the sketch and prep. Very little direction was intentionally given to the sketching out part of the project other than, they had to sketch out their design and include measurements that went with their design. Students were thinking about three-dimensional mathematical shapes like I had never seen before. They were measuring for something more, rather than just a line on a worksheet. They were thinking about ways they needed to connect objects, or ways they needed to cut certain size holes through their design. My students were thinking about all the possibilities they needed to design their project. They were designing hinges without realizing they were designers hinges. They were just problem solving. Then once they had their design, they had to take a picture of their design and insert that into another collaborative Google Slide for feedback from their peers. Not only did they receive meaningful feedback, but they also got to share their idea with all of the classmates. 

Students becoming teachers

I would be lying if I told you I had all the answers to my students questions about 3D design and printing the past few days. I would be lying if I told you I had most of the answers to my students questions about 3D design and printing, too. Truth is, my students have become so engaged and excited over their project ideas, that they are the ones that are immersed in it, and they are the ones that are answering each other's questions. They are becoming the teachers, and that is the most rewarding thing for me to see. 

While we have not printed a single 3D object yet, so much has been learned already. All I had to do was give my students a relevant and meaningful opportunity, and they took control of their learning from there. 


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William Madden holds a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master's in Educational Leadership. His professional backgrounds includes over 16 years in education as an intermediate school teacher, an elementary school principal, instructional technology coach, and Google for Education Certified Trainer. In addition, his experience includes online course design, technology integration, ELA and mathematics curriculum mapping, being on his school's technology and building improvment committees, and conducting professional development. He blogs to reflect on his practice, share with others, and to continue to grow and learn as an educator to meet the needs of today's students. 

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Guest Thursday, 18 July 2019