2016 3D Design & Fabrication Challenge Complete

Our school year has ended and so has this year’s 3D Design & Fab Challenge at The School. I’m always revising the parts and processes of this unit each year, and (hopefully) improving it on each revision. That said, I think that this year’s crew of 5th graders have performed outstanding feats of design. Each group went through 2 – 4 design revisions, and while I would budget even more time for revisions next year, I was really happy with their work. We ended the unit with a pop-up gallery of all the student work and samples of their design documents, interviews, drawings and early prototypes. Some final products were 3D printed, few were hand-made from craft materials, and a few others were hybrids of the two. Parents and teachers came to experience the work and it was great to see the students talking about their process and their products with adults!

Unsurprisingly, we have authentic, student-designed solutions to these authentic problems that teachers posed to us many months ago. Enjoy the photos and captions below of all the student designs:

While I personally would love to share these 3D files on a hosted platform like Thingiverse or YouMagine right away, I should talk to those students first. My fifth graders are certainly under 13-years old, which means that they can’t yet have accounts on these sites based on privacy concerns, but more importantly I never got their permission to share their work for them. 🙂

One of my concerns about this project was that I never truly touched on issues of IP, CC licensing, or the Open Source movement with the students. A new goal for me next year is to bring these issues to them, and to encourage them to find a way to share their designs with the world via these Open Source platforms. For now, we’ll all have to enjoy these photos until a future share date!


Project Astroleo: Our HAB is Ready for Launch!

Our custom, student-designed, student-built, student-programmed HAB rig is finally ready for launch. PVC pipe structure with 3D printed joint connectors. RaspberryPi controller with SenseHat data logger coded with Python. PiCamera capturing HDMI video and stuffed Astroleo selfie-shots. Arduino GPRS+GSM tracking system. 3D printed cases and mounts all the electronics.

Let’s hope for a clear day with kind winds in the future. Our planned launch is halted if we don’t have clear skies or if the prevailing winds would blow the balloon into NYC airspace, or simply send the rig over the Atlantic Ocean where we cannot recover the payload.

Learning TinkerCAD with Autodesk Project Ignite

The next step in our 5th grade 3D design journey is to graduate from 2D & 3D hand drawing into 3D computer modeling. I prefer to introduce students to this skill with TinkerCAD, a free, browser-based CAD software for solid modeling, that let’s users render complex shapes from generic 3D primitives (cubes, spheres, cylinders, wedges, etc.). Software giant, Autodesk, acquired TinkerCAD in 2013. In the past I have used the standard TinkerCAD tutorials on the site to teach an introduction to CAD before we move on to producing 3D printable parts. Students explore and follow the step-by-step guides and learn to navigate the 3D environment and build sample 3D objects like coat
buttons and chess pawns. It was OK. The self-paced nature certainly made it better for attention spans – better than an instructor droning on and on at the front of the classroom 😉 

This year I learned about Autodesk’s new initiative for design education named Project Ignite. Basically it’s a new software tutorial and training platform for learning TinkerCAD and 123D Circuits, that’s based around different design projects. It’s also has some features of an LMS (learning management system) like work assignments, and basic student progress tracking.

The short version of this tale is that I think that these new TinkerCAD tutorials from Project Ignite are a huge leap forward from the original TinkerCAD tutorials. In the short time that we’ve tested them here, I see a huge improvement in skills and comfort-level with my students. The lessons are more organized, better sequenced and more thorough. They also build in room for “free-design”, which is great for keeping students engaged. Of course, as before I also love the they are self-paced so students can move along at their own speed and I can answer their questions individually or, if I notice a trend, I can pause the whole group and facilitate a quick mini-lesson on a particular concept that many of them are struggling with at the moment.

Before I move on to giving students our open-ended design challenges, I will task them with working on the following tutorial sets on the site: Let’s Learn TinkerCAD!, Making Everyday Objects Pt. 1, Making Everyday Objects Pt. 2. Each one contains 5 sub-lessons, so it’s quite a bit of content, but it will give everyone the room to run to their own course at the speed that works for them.


Project Astroleo: Division of Labor

The MakerClub is set to tackle a new challenge: building our own High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) from scratch. Last year we put together a HAB kit from High Altitude Science and did have much good fortune and success, but this year we want to burst the abstraction barrier and design own own rig and code our own sensor computer.

To accomplish this task everyone has to chip in, so students have elected to form different teams to build the many parts of this contraction. Rig engineers will prototype physical designs, sensor programmers will use Python to code a Raspberry Pi with sense hat to log weather data, camera coders will enable a PiCam to record video of the journey, 3D modelers will locate and design custom 3D printed parts for the equipment, and our documentary team will record the design process with photos and video interviews.

Watch our planning & goals presentation here:

3D Printing Prototypes

Our after school Maker Club is always looking for work. I regularly solicit the faculty and staff at our school for problems that our students could solve. I like to ask other teachers, “What can we make for you?”

We recently began work on a project for our After-School Program. They require stands for a number of tabletop signs that display the names of the various after school offerings. These signs help instructors gather students in the central cafe before they disperse to classrooms. The current models are starting to break down, so it seemed like a good time to reach out to the Maker Club.

The video compilation shows some of the steps that students went through to design a model in TinkerCAD and then 3D print it for testing.