Sunday, April 27, 2014

NOT SO RAPID Prototyping: 3D Printing With Middle School Students

In this post we feature two middle school educators who joined Lucie deLaBruere and Charlie Wilson in a recent conversation about 3d printing in education as part of the Connected Voices series of Google Hangouts sponsored by Vita-Learn.

Fifth graders at Browns River Middle School love their 3D printer, but are baffled that the process of design is called “rapid” prototyping. A two hour print is “not rapid prototyping to an 11 year old”, says middle school teacher Mr. Willie Lee who would love a second printer to keep up with demand. As students are nearing the end of a design challenge where they create a board game and that includes 3D printed game pieces, the printer runs all day, yielding 3-4 game pieces a day. With 45 fifth graders participating in this challenge, the printing process can take up to 2 weeks.

After extensive research, Willie Lee took the recommendations from Make magazine, and purchased an Affinia H Series 3D printer for his classroom.

The metal printer with its 6X6 build area was ranked at having one of the best ‘out of the box’ experience, making it a great choice for a classroom. It has SD storage which frees up your laptop from the long print times. The print software was very intuitive and gives you lots information about your surfaces before the print job goes live. Students currently are not involved with cleaning up a print for printing using this software, but they do use professional modeling software to create their designs. After about 3 - 4 class period, Mr. Willie’s 5th and 6th grade students are able to use Sketchup as modeling software well enough to assemble imagine and invent using various shaped objects (often known as primitives) to complete new design challenges. They enjoy putting their skills to the test by participating in the Phone of the Future challenge [designed by Tony Galle] during the annual Engineering Day sponsored by the University of Vermont College of Engineering and Mathematical Science. Bringing home several awards, Lee’s students have motivated other students to get involved.

Meanwhile, at Swanton Elementary school, fifth graders are using Tinkercad to reate their 3D models in Mr. Gregory’s school. Rusti Gregory, tech integrationist, ventured into the world of 3D printing two years ago with a SolidDoodle 2 - which was NOT an “out of the box experience”. Two years ago, entering the world of 3D printing meant a lot more tweaking with settings, command line software, and longer set up times. Then there was the very “common” first timers experience of learning how to make filament stick to the bed — hairspray, or perhaps some blue painters tape along with the fiddling with the settings. But like many early adopters, Rusti and his students were not deterred and their experience and blazed the trails for others.

the printer was working smoothly, Mr. Gregory created a valley as a design challenge, for which the students started designing the perfect bridge. After they printed and tested their first design, students had a chance to ‘fix’ their design and print a second attempt. As in most design challenges, the changes to the second version included much more accurate measurements and strong evidence of learning through iteration.

Once the printer was working smoothly, Mr. Gregory created a valley as a design challenge, for which the students started designing the perfect bridge. After they printed and tested their first design, students had a chance to ‘fix’ their design and print a second attempt. As in most design challenges, the changes to the second version included much more accurate measurements and strong evidence of learning through iteration. students understood the process of design and print, the printer started to be used by students for passion projects. 

Every Friday students and teachers at Swanton Elementary participate in elective choice classes, where both teachers and students participate in passion based teaching and learning. When a group of students working with circuits to find different ways to generate electricity got the idea of using a water wheel, they found themselves approaching students learning to model 3D objects for help. This not only lead to collaborative learning, but also to ‘electricity” being generated using student designed 3D printed objects.

As the need to have a second 3D printer to support demand, Swanton Elementary looked again to SolidDoodle and purchased one of its newer models. Thankfully the new printer arrived just as their original 2 year printer stopped working. “I learned that it had outlived its life expectancy, so I guess we got our money’s worth and we learned that 3D printer parts have a limited life expectancy, so be prepared to replace them as needed.”

Caleb Clark, who helps teachers discover 3D printing, circuits, laser cutters, and more in his “Introduction to Making and Fabrication in Education” at Marlboro College’s Teaching with Technology program believes that early adopters of 3D printers in school, like Rusti and Willie, are models for best practices, “because 3D printing and other “Maker” type activities not only teach valuable engineering, math, technology and art skills but working with them also help students find out WHO they are and what they like to do. Traditionally asking kids “what are you passionate about” has not been a large part of school culture, but knowing what you love to do is very important in the search for satisfying and sustainable employment. The so called Maker movement is sneaking in an opportunity for students to discover their passions.”

As the bars for entry gets lower and lower, as software gets easier and a teacher knows they can plug it in and make it work, we will see more and more educators making curricular connections to the processes like 3D printing. Meanwhile, educators like Rusti Gregory and Willie Lee are preparing students who will be ready to help others as they enter the world of 3D printing.

Listen to the complete conversation below: 

Also See Part 2 of this series on 3D printing in Education where we feature high school students printing for a purpose. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

eTextiles + 3D printing = fun name badge

In my early search for my first authentic e-textile project,  I wanted something that could be  "a walking" billboard promoting the maker spirit.  My original thoughts was that it would be some type of e-textile project that could become part of my book bag which I have with me most places. I spent a lot of time playing with this idea as I  picked up supplies at Michael's and Walmart and ordered LilyPad components from SparkFun.  When my  Sparkfun package arrived,  I was able to easily get my computer sending schemes to the Lilypad boards and started creating circuits using craft materials, conductive thread and basic Lilypad components.

The Sparkfun website is filled with tutorials that might be helpful.  For getting started with LilyPad e-textiles, I would suggest  the following series.

Since I had just finished my own build of a 3d printer (The Printrbot Simple  ) I decided I wanted to integrate 3D printing with the e-textile components in a way that would start conversations about maker empowerment.   Although the book bag idea seemed fun,  the design wasn't jumping out at me. Then while cleaning out the bus one day, I found some name badges from recent conferences, and it  occurred to me that conference name badges are meant to provide just enough information about you to start a conversation - so why not find a way to add some maker elements to a badge holder.  Although I had lots of different components, most of which were overkill  for this project,
I settled on augmenting the battery powered basic circuit with a LilyPad Twinkle board.

This board actually has an ATtiny microcontroller which is programmed to make LED's you attach blink like fireflys. Although there was no need for programming for this project, I did find lots of advanced user tips for those who wanted to tackle programming the board. The built in firefly effect was going to work just fine for my project (attention getting in a subtle way).


What seemed like a quick and easy project ended up taking much more time than expected due to my lack of modeling ability and unexpected challenges of working with fine wire. I found a model on Thingverse that would work if I could create a cutout in the middle for the LED. After struggling to get the extrusion working with 123Design, I resorted back to TinkerCad and was able to get the right size hole after only 2 prints. (The digital callipers came in very handy and I was tickled to use my newly assembled printer.)

Wire management ended up being my biggest obstacles. The fine wire I used was conductive enough but had to be pulled really tight to complete the circuit and became much more tangled and harder to manage than I had expected. But after multiple takes and some reinforcement with the glue gun, I now have a fairly solid name badge holder than can start conversations about 3D printing, circuits, and maker empowerment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From 3D printer build to First Print

Totally excited from completing the last step of my Printrbt 3D printer build,  I was eager to move to to actually printing something.

My experience so far was sending designs off for others to to print at places like Shapeways  or Sculpteo or finding someone else who has a printer for hire through xyzmake.  I have seen plenty of 3D printers at conferences and even had the privilege of being at Swanton Elementary School when the day they unpacked and tested their first 3D printer. My research lead me to understand that there was a lot of "adjusting" and "tweaking" necessary to end up with quality prints.  So I was a bit nervous about the next steps.

Step 67 ended rather humorously and then sent me to a the next  Getting Started Guide which suggested I download Repetier software and proceeded to offer screenshots of how to configure the software for your first print.  Replicating each setting in the 5 pages of screenshots gave me a tour of the software, but also made me very aware of how much more there was to learn.  A slight thrill came over me as the x, y, and z axis all moved when performing the initial test as directed in the guide.  The temperature graph showed that the extruder was heating up on command.   (smiling)

I fed through some black filament (included in the kit) and then pressed the SLICE button as directed.  With all the talk about "slicing"  that I've heard,  it seemed a little anti-climatic that it took literally 2 seconds.  The CONNECT button responded positively which mean I could talk to the printer.  I hit the SET Temperature and watched the temperature curve quickly reach 195 degrees.  Next step "RUN" to start your PRINT!

THIS DID NOT SEEM RIGHT! Seemed there had to be more than this.  What about the print head?  Where should it start?  Surely there must be some directions about calibration somewhere.  I reread the guide and found none.  A sense of anxiety came over me.  What was I thinking "trying such a project" in a 'bus' parked out in the middle of Texas.  It's not like I could drag it into the local "genius" bar and ask for help.  It was getting late and I didn't want to go to bed feeling anxious,  so I decided to "go for it"  and hit RUN as instructed.  Yeah-  filament started to squirt out! Boo - none of it stuck to the print bed and instead globbed up around the tip of the extruder.  What to do?  There were no instructions on what to do if that happened.. but looking around the software I found a "KILL JOB"  button!  Phew!  The printer stopped!  Exhausted by the long day of building filled with 'creative tension' of so much new learning, I decided that I could head to bed knowing that the day had been a success!  The printer worked!  And  filament was coming out!  And my hunch that their was a missing piece to these instructions was spot on!  Tomorrow I would tackle that step!

......  next day

The first step was getting the blog of filament off the print head. Thankfully it came off easy enough. I did lots of poking around the Internet looking for answers.  Armed with just enough knowledge to enter some key words into Google Search,  I skimmed resource after resource picking up new terminology each time.  RichRap's blog post on slicer offered lots of pointers, but felt a little over my head for this stage in the game.  But I saved them for a later time when I have more experience and am ready to tackle the granular advice offered by Rich.

Just as the "I'm not smart enough for this" anxiety started to rise I discovered JOSH!  
OMG!  Josh Marinacci not only had the same 3D printer and model that I had,  but he knew how to write great documentation that helped me regain confidence that I could do this and my brain stopped sending me "I'm not smart enough messages"  and started to send more rational messages like "I have an experience gap that makes it hard for me to do this" and Josh is about to help me bridge that gap!  And the fact that his blog started with tales of his recent adventures at SxSw made me trust him immediately.  For all I know, we might have been sitting in the same sessions at SxSw. The fact that he added pictures of at least 5 "less than perfect" prints before getting a successful print also helped manage my expectation and prepare me for the fact that I might still get a globby mess.

I followed his advice step by step, starting with adding blue painters tape to the print bed. When there were discrepancies in the Prntrbot documentation and his directions (i.e. 4800 for feedrate vs 500) I chose to follow his specs.  Moved the extruder so the X and Y axis  appeared to be front and left, and brought the z axis motor so that a sheet of paper slid through with a little friction.  Then we calibrated the extruder feed rate by marking off some filament and sending 10 mm at a time through the printer.  The extruder feed didn't even need adjusting,  but it was good to see that Josh offered all the "math" necessary to make the adjustment should we need them. (I'm keeping those formulas handy).

Took a deep breath, hit the software HOME button on x, y, and z  - crossed my fingers and HIT RUN!  First relief and soon glee came over me as layer after layer stuck to the bed and built up a 5mm calibration cube!  And best of all - it didn't look like a glob - it actually looked like a pretty decent print.  I was high as a kite for the rest of the day! I was able to happily tuck the printer away as it was time to move bus again and we had  3 days of driving head as we left from Texas to Oklahoma City and then to St. Louis.

Here is the short video peak at my first print.

Many thanks to Craig Lyndes (fellow geek, partner, coach, travel companion, husband) who stuck with me through some of the head banging around this one.

More maker adventures to come!

cross posted on

Monday, April 7, 2014

Assembling My First 3D printer

In search for the right 3D printer for my needs and for schools I might work with has been an eye opening journey.  At first all eyes pointed to the Makerbot Replicator 2, but as I have been meeting more 'makers' I'm finding lots of different possibilities including the Lulzbot,  the 3D Cube and new models from Printrbot.

Although the 'extreme' maker would MAKE their own 3D printer, program their own arduino board to operate motors and extruders and laser cut or 3D print the parts,  I wasn't quite ready for that journey.  However I felt confident enough to order a KIT and do my own assembly. Although I didn't feel the Printrbot Simple would be the right kit for a heavy use classroom environment, it seemed that it might be the right fit for educators who wanted a include 3D printing as part of a Create/Make "station".  Also,  the company's reputation was sound enough for me to give the build of their low cost model a try.

The package arrived the other day and I could not wait to dive in.  It was a great feeling to open the box of parts and find that a degree of comfort with the parts included.  I could  envision the machine that had laser cut the wooden pieces; I immediately recognized the arduino board, and was not afraid of the colored wires and end stops, motors, and wire tires.  The combined documentation (in the box and online supplement) was very thorough. I especially liked the way that the online documentation broke down the steps by steps with 3 visuals for each of the 67 steps.  Also helpful was the way each step linked to user comments as they completed the steps. (I always read those, figuring I could benefit from other's questions and feedback).   I used my Nexus 7 to document my own work.   Here are the first 2 days of the build.

My amazing partner/coach/friend/husband was great support and lent me his tools and  showed me all these little tricks (i.e. working with zip ties and hex nuts, cable management, etc) while demonstrating  extreme self-discipline by letting me fumble through some awkward moments with tools I've never used before.  (And yes, I did let him play with a few of the steps, but only after I experienced it myself first).  The build did require a trip to Home Depot to pick up a few tools we were lacking including a micro cutter, more exacto blades,  tinier Allen Wrench, and thread blue).   As the assembly started to take shape,  my motivation to make it to the end increased and we spent a LONG day at it on Saturday and finished the build!  Yeah!

I had to laugh at the last step when I read the following
Step 67
Simple build finished. Great job! You're not quite done though. There are a couple more steps on your journey to 3D printing glory. ...I know, it is sort of like beating a level in Mario Bros, when the bad guy runs off with the Princess again.
See the Getting Started Guide for info on software settings and other tips.

Because that was exactly what I felt as I discovered that I had NEW software to learn and didn't have a clue how to  calibrate the x, y, z, motors and extruder -- all steps which ARE NOT in the Getting Started Guide!    Ask me how I know!  --- (perhaps by the glob of filament stuck on the extruder, instead of stuck to the print bed, where it should be.... KILL Print Job... Stay tuned for more learning)

But boy am I EXCITED  that we have a working 3D printer in our bus - and I assembled it - with a little help from my friend,  coach,  partner, travel companion, husband -  Thanks, Craig.
Cross posted  on  and