How do you teach Makerbotting?

This past summer I got the go-ahead to purchase a Makerbot Replicator for school. Not only was it necessary for some 3D printing workshops hosted on campus, but I figured there would only be more interest in 3D printing from students.

the thing-o-matic and replicator

TOM and Replicator–BFFs

I was totally right about that.

There’s been a cadre of 5th grade boys visiting the library during study halls and activity periods to print something on the Makerbot.  What have we printed?  Creepers from Minecraft, a model of an iPhone, a Camaro.

These kids think the Makerbot is awesome and a little bit of magic.  It is truly endearing that they want a tangible object that represents their interests and passions.  But a transaction that goes something like this bothers me:

Kid:  “What can I print out on the Makerbot?”

Me:  “Have you had a chance to use Tinkercad or 3DTin yet?”

Kid:  “No.  What’s the site I can go to if I want to print out something from the internet?”

Me:  “You mean Thingiverse?”

Kid:  “Yeah, that’s it.”  [Runs off to find a file to print for instant gratification]

That’s not really how I want to do things, and it’s not the way it should be done.

Andrew tweeted this today:

It really hit on what I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.  The Replicator and Thing-o-matic really are the first exposure to 3D printing for most of these kids.  Thingiverse and the assortment of tsotchkes on display is an effective way to catch someone’s attention.  However, I feel like Thingiverse is in danger of turning these kids into consumers rather than makers.

Things made with the Makerbot

I was thinking about banning Thingiverse prints, but at the end of the day, that restriction doesn’t sit well with me.  Maybe having the kid take the time to reflect on a Thingiverse model would work.  What’s interesting about the design?  If the kid was designing something similar, what would he/she do differently?  It would be ideal if a student actually observed a print so that he/she could learn from some of the frustration and/or troubleshooting that goes into printing.  The structure of the middle school schedule doesn’t necessarily allow for that though.

Next week I’m usurping Carolyn’s 5th grade library classes to formerly introduce the Replicator, Tinkercad, and 3DTin.  I’ve been pushing Tinkercad and 3DTin with my 5th grade regular, but I’m hoping that this hands-on class time and opportunity to work with each other will really get them interested in designing their own things.


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