3D Printing with Primary Students

When I started teaching my students about 3D printing, I limited my audience to only students in intermediate and middle school grades. I knew there could be value in also having younger students experience the process, but I wasn’t sure where to start. In my experience, many of the apps that transform 2D drawing to 3D file programs didn’t seem to work as I expected or were too glitchy to risk having classes of students using.

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Here are some tips to how I found teaching 3D printing using TinkerCAD to primary students (ages 5-7) to work best:

  • Have students work in pairs, sharing one computer.
  • Make sure students have prior usage of computer/mouse/trackpad navigation. The fine motor movements of shaping and rotating objects alone in TinkerCAD can be challenging for the youngest makers.
  • Before working in TinkerCAD, have students use pattern on the table to stack, rotate, and otherwise manipulate shapes. Discuss terms like rotate and flip.
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  • Explain to them that CAD programs aren’t always designed for their age group in mind. Remind them to have patience with themselves and their partner through the process. Learning something new can feel hard and that’s ok!
  • Start with the basics- You don’t have to show them all the capabilities in one session. Slowly add to their repertoire as they gain confidence and understanding.
  • Start with creating objects that allow for more imagination than realism- Students are less likely to get stuck on the fact that it doesn’t look the exact way they had in mind. Some ideas include:
    • Robots
    • An animal that doesn’t exist
    • Creating a hole with obstacles for a miniature golf course (using a marble as a golf ball)
    • Snowflakes
  • Have the 3D printer running so they can feel excited and inspired! While it’s printing, walk students through the process of how designs get from the computer screen to a completed print.

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