All posts by Steve Dickie

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Jazz Hands

In my last post I walked you through creating a relatively simple cell phone holder in Tinkercad. In this one I want to show you how easy it is to modify an existing design. You can do this with your own models or you can do this with ones you find online in places like the Thingiverse.

We’re going to add a design to our phone case we made in the last post by importing an image in svg format. svg files can be imported, resized and extruded into 3D objects. I’m going to use a public domain image from Pixaby. I like Pixaby because all the images are public domain. They do have svg files available for download, however, I haven’t had any luck importing their svg files into Tinkercad. Instead I find an image (png or jpg) I like and convert it using the Online SVG Image Converter. You’ll want an image that is only black and white (literally black and white, not greyscale). If your image has any grays they will be treated as black when imported into Tinkercad. The image I chose has some grays, but I think it will look fine as black and white.

Basically you just import your svg file, resize it to fit, and the position it where you want it to go. You can either do this as a raised pattern or turn it into a hole and use it as a recessed pattern. You can find full directions in the Google Presentation below.

Go Back to earlier parts in the series: Part 1Part 3 or go on to Part 5

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Lets make something

OK, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. I’ve decided to do an instructional post to break things up a little. One of the projects I had my physics students work on last year was an engineering/design problem. I simply asked them to create an accessory for their cell phones. This idea was not original to me, but I honestly can’t remember where I got it from.

In order to actually make their own accessories my students needed some sort of program to create a 3D model. Our school doesn’t currently have drafting or CAD classes, so I was left with only a few options. We have no CAD software and even if we did, my students wouldn’t know how to use it.

I settled on cloud based solution, Tinkercad, for my students. Tinkercad is very simple, which also means it lacks many functions you’d expect in a traditional CAD program. It is also run in the cloud so it can be slow at times, but on the plus side if your computers have Chrome there is also nothing to install. This can be a huge plus in an educational environment. I use Tinkercad at least in part for almost all my 3D printing projects.

The basic idea behind Tinkercad involves building models by joining together simple shapes. Shapes can either be solids or holes. It seems like this would be a difficult way to create anything, but as it turns out you can create some very useful models with this very simple idea.

I originally found this phone stand on Thingiverse. I like it because it holds the phone up a little higher than most of the ones I’ve seen. I’ll show you how easy Tinkercad is to work with by recreating it. We’ll talk about the phone case in a future post.

If you have students create accounts for Tinkercad please steer them away from using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. In the past I’ve had a few students create accounts at home using their Facebook credentials. We block Facebook, so they were unable to access their accounts at school.

Go Back to earlier parts in the series: Part 1, Part 2, or go on to Part 4

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Part 2

This is part two in my ongoing series of articles on 3D printers for the classroom. Click here for part one.

I don’t know about you, but I have virtually no training in 3D modeling software. How should a classroom teacher start with their new 3D printer? Personally, when my printer arrived I spent a lot of time looking for cool designs online. The main repository I used and still use is the Thingiverse.1

The best way to start with your new printer is to find some models that other people have created and printed successfully and print them your self. There are lots of great ones to choose from. Some of which are simply models for demonstration while others may be tools or puzzles. My printer came with two spools of plastic. I burned through them and called it professional development. I really did learn a lot from this. You should probably do the same thing. Print stuff because you think it might be fun, useful, or you just want to see how it prints. I think the nerd word for this is experiential learning.

The bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter what you print. Print small stuff, big stuff, stuff with lots of small details, stuff with overhangs. Start with the default settings on your machine, then change them to see how it affects the final print. This will begin to give you a sense for what you can print and what you can’t. I also kept a small scale handy so I could determine the mass of my prints and then figure out the material costs. If I buy a 1 kg spool of plastic for $48, then each gram of plastic used is 4.8 cents. So a 20 gram part costs about $1 in materials.

Don’t worry if you’ll never use these early prints in your classes. One of the first things I ever printed was a replacement cup holder for my Ford Focus. While it had nothing to do with teaching it did begin to show me the power of having access to a 3D printer. I also got my first experience with warping2, a problem that plagued a lot of my early 3D printing.

During my learning process I did manage to print a few tools to be used for teaching, including a Macro Extension tube for my camera so I can take extreme closeups without having to buy a $400+ lens, an adapter to hold my iPhone to a telescope, an adapter for my Canon camera that works both with our telescope and our instructor microscope. But mostly I printed random stuff like an iPad sound reflector, games to play with my son, Higgs-Bosons, Pan Tail Duck call, and a bunch of other stuff.

If you feel you must print something useful try these:

  • Triangle “Missing Square” Puzzle: It’s a good critical thinking exercise. Print one and play. You may have to do a little sanding to make it fit perfectly.
  • Wind Puzzle: Not sure if this one is a Bernoulli effect demonstration or some other fluid dynamics principal. Either way it’s fun and my students love it.
  • Microscope Mount for iPhone 5: I modified an iPhone telescope adapter to work with our student microscopes. If it doesn’t fit yours I’ll teach you how to modify it in a future post.
  • One Small Step: Cool desk placard showing the first footstep on the moon on one side and the moon in relief on the reverse.
  • Lincoln Life Mask: The Smithsonian is starting to publish 3D models of their artifacts online. You can see how the presidency aged one of our greatest leaders.
  • Air Powered Rocket Car: This one presents good learning opportunities. It’s the first one I printed that required “supports”3.

Back to Part 1 or Continue to Part 3.

1. Now I should say that many people have philosophical objections to the Thingiverse. Thingiverse was started by Makerbot. Makerbot had it’s origins in the Open Source Hardware movement. At some point Makerbot moved away from Open Source and was later bought by Stratasys, a large traditional 3D printing company. However you feel about Makerbot’s abandonment of Open Source or their later acquisition, the Thingiverse is a great place to find cool models to make.

2. Warping can happen with larger prints. The corners of the print lift off the build platform. Sometimes the part will still be usable, but more often it will not and sometimes can lead to the whole print coming unstuck resulting in a completely failed print job. I’ll talk about what to do to deal with warping in a future post.

3. FDM printers build from the bottom up. For some prints you will have parts that can not be printed because there is nothing below them to hold them up. Supports are typically a series of thin “walls” added below these areas, designed to be easily broken off the final print.

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Part 1

I’ve had a 3D printer in my classroom for a couple of years now and it is totally awesome. Last year I wrote a blogpost answering a question I received as a tweet. The question was, “What resources or designs do you wish existed for teachers/students when you got your printer?” I’ve decided to do a series of posts from an educator’s point of view to create the resource I wish I’d had when I first got my 3D printer.

There are a lot of emerging technologies that are capturing attention today. Of all of these, I think 3D printing has the most power to inspire students. I managed to get the first generation MakerBot Replicator a couple years ago and every time it’s running in the back of my classroom it acts as a student magnet. Some would just stand and watch a print run from start to finish if I’d let them. I have to say it is pretty awesome to watch an object get made seemingly out of nothingness.

When I got my printer, it cost just under $2,000. Today you can get a pretty respectable machine for under $500 and if you want to go into the $2,000 to $3,000 range you can get a really nice printer. If you’re in the market for one I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. The last two years Make Magazine has done a great rundown on the consumer grade 3D printers that are available. If I was going to buy a new printer, this is where I’d start.

The main thing you need to know, is there are two broad categories of 3D printers you might consider for your classroom, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SL). My printer does FDM so that’s what I’m familiar with and able to speak to. I really want to try SL, because it’s totally cool. The most common printers in classrooms today use FDM, but this may change in the future.

In a nutshell, Fused Deposition Modeling printers melt plastic and push it out through a nozzle like a hot glue gun. The nozzle in this case is much smaller and hotter than a glue gun, however. The printer builds the object up one layer at a time.

Stereolithography printers use a liquid resin. The resin solidifies when a light is shined on it. These printers also build an object one layer at a time, but the do so a bit differently. The light source in an SL printer will either be a laser that traces a path similar to an FDM printer or a DLP projector that will simply project an image of the whole layer at one time. Once the layer at the top of the liquid solidifies, the printer lifts the growing object and the next layer is illuminated.

If you’re looking for more resources to get you started I’d recommend:

Continue to Part 2 in the series.

A question about 3D printers in education

I was recently asked a question about my 3D printer:
This ended up being very thought provoking on multiple levels and as with all thoughts I have like this I thought I’d share them here.
Through serendipity about a year and a half ago I found I had unspent grant money that needed to be spent. As I’d made a few big rounds of purchasing for my classroom lately I felt I pretty well supplied. So I decided to take my largess and spend it on a Makerbot Replicator. I entered into this technology purchase in the worst possible way. Here was a big tech purchase and I really had no specific educational outcomes in mind and yet with a tool with the promise of this one I feel no regrets on that score.
So, back to the question. What resources do I wish I’d had? I wasn’t quite sure what Matt meant and I’ve decided to not ask for clarification on this question, but to answer it a few different ways. A few of these wishes have since been met, I’ll point out the resources where appropriate. I’ll also add in the resources I’m glad I had.
What resources do I wish I had before I purchased my 3D printer? 
I wished I had a good breakdown of all the entry level 3D Printers available on the market created by a third party (that is to say, not marketing material for any one printer). Personally I spent a lot of time on the internet searching before finally settling on Makerbot. Now, of course, there is the Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing and they’re now working on an update to this guide. I’d add that I’d like to see one of these done by educators to see what they’d predict they’d see in a school environment with the different machines. This team should include some dedicated industrial ed teachers as well as core content teachers who might use 3D printed objects in their curricula.
Another thing I would like to see is some sort of article or set of articles that could be used to justify the expense of such a machine in the classroom. These could be used to help sway a school’s administration into investing in such a device. Inspired by the question I will try to create such an article in a future post.
Now, once I had my printer what resources do I wish I had?
First on this list would be easy to use software to run my 3D printer. For those not familiar with 3D printers, you need a piece of software that will take the 3D model file to create the tool paths for the machine to follow. This one has been solved for the Makerbot with Makerware. I’m not sure if Makerware will work with other 3D printers or not. Makerware offers very easy default options, but also gives the more advanced user more control. These advanced features are mostly hidden from novice users which really is a good idea. With the advent of Makerware my Makerbot became much easier to use and more versitile.
Next on this list would be an easy to use CAD program. I teach physics and electronics with micro-controllers. Neither of which have much time built in that could be used to teach CAD (even Sketchup). This problem has also been solved for me in a couple of ways. The first of these is a service called TinkerCad. TinkerCad runs in the cloud and requires no software install (always a bonus in schools). It allows you to easily create 3D models and export them as *.stl files ready for printing. Note, there are actually lots of options now. TinkerCad is my favorite though.
Another option that occurred to me last year was OpenSCAD. OpenSCAD allows you to create 3D models programatically. This is not something I plan to teach to my physics students, however. The power here is that like any program you have variables. So you can create or find a good model and then let students explore how changing variables can change the underlying model. My students were able to investigate how changing the parameters of a wind turbine affected the output voltage while possessing no 3D modeling skills. We created and tested 20 different designs. The designs were all created in only two class periods, one each for my two sections.

I would also have liked more nuts and bolts advice and knowledge on operating my printer and the problems I might encounter. To some degree it really is impossible to put together a resource that covers all the potential pitfalls, but I had to fumble around quite a bit. The biggest issue I had to overcome was the warping of parts. This happens for particularly large parts as they cool. The can pull away from the build platform and distort the part or even come loose ruining the print run. The “Helper Discs” that appeared in the example menu in Makerware have helped me immensely with this problem. While there is some overlap, the needs of a Maker are often much different than the needs of a teacher.
The final thing I wished I had when I got my 3D printer was a good idea of how to leverage the power of this device to enhance my teaching. I know it’s a bit ironic, this is exactly what I said I didn’t have and didn’t really care about when I started this post. What I’m still looking for are really cool design projects I can use with my students to tie together what we’re learning with real world applications and critical thinking. To some degree this has been solved a bit with the Makerbot Curriculum page, but I’m still not satisfied here. Now that I’ve discovered the power of OpenSCAD, a whole range of potential projects has become available as well.

Bottom Line?
Some of the things I wished I had are now available but a few are still lacking and might never really exist:

  • Breakdown of best 3D printer in an educational environment. Ideally created by educators (and their students)
  • Articles to be used to support an educator in the purchase of a 3D printer.
  • Cool design project ideas to be used in conjunction with core content classes.
  • Nuts and Bolts guide for teachers on how to use and trouble shoot problems.

iBooks Hackathon

I’ve already written a bit about iBooks Author and how awesome it is for creating resources to share with your students. I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes about now and thinking something along the lines of, “More iPads in education… When will this fad die?” Whether or not iPads in the classroom are a fad or not is really immaterial at this point. Like it or not, many schools are already or will be going one to one with them. So we should probably find the best way to use this technology to support our students.

Last year Dan Spencer put me in contact with Tony DiLaura. Tony is an educator from Zeeland Michigan. He is also excited about the potential impact of teacher created textbooks using iBooks Author. His goal is to bring educators together to collaboratively create resources that can be used to make the creation of these books easier. After some discussion the idea of the iBooks Hackathon was born.

We will officially kickoff the Hackathon at this year’s MACUL conference. Then in June we will have two workshops, one on the east side of Michigan and the other on the west side. At these workshops we hope to bring educators together into groups and begin working on cool resources. Throughout the summer these groups will continue to work and in August we will take what has been created to that point and have the official launch of what will hopefully be a large collection of resources for other educators to use.

if you are interested in participating you can check out our Google+ Community as well as our page in the MI-Learning section of MACUL’s website.

GeoGebra and iBooks?

If you follow my blog you know I’m a big fan of  the new iBooks and iBooks Author. What I wanted to mention today is a cool tool called GeoGebra.

“GeoGebra is free and multi-platform dynamic mathematics software for all levels of education that joins geometry, algebra, tables, graphing, statistics and calculus in one easy-to-use package. It has received several educational software awards in Europe and the USA.”

 It’s pretty cool. After playing with it a little I see some real potential here not only for math, but also science. Below is an interactive I made after playing for only a few minutes. It models a position time graph for an object moving with a constant velocity. You can change the Velocity or the Starting Position (xo).

It literally took me no more than ten minutes to make this having never worked with GeoGebra before. Anyway I was looking at GeoGebra as a way of creating interactive content for iBooks. Anthony DiLaura (@anthonydilaura) has been doing this already. He uses Tumult Hype to take GeoGebra output and get it into a widget for embedding in iBooks. I’ve come up with a slightly different way and easier way, but Anthony’s way is better in some ways.

In order to put your GeoGebra Content into iBooks Author you must:

  1. Download a Beta Version of GeoGebra (4.2 or 5.0) and create your interactive
  2. File->Export as “Dynamic Worksheet as Webpage (html)”
  3. Click on the “Export as Webpage” Button
  4. Click on Advanced (near the center of the window)
  5. Set width to 820 and height to 520
  6. Place a checkmark in the Export to HTML5 box
  7. Then Export. Save as index.html somewhere you can find it
  8. Download my sample widget and unzip.
  9. Replace my index.html with your index.html
  10. Rename the sample folder to: your name.wdgt (Adding the wdgt will turn the folder into a widget file. You can access the individual files again by right clicking on the widget file and selecting “Show Package Contents”)
  11. Embed your widget in iBooks!

I should note one thing. This method will only work if you have an internet connection to the iPad when you’re using it. I have been a bit daunted when it comes to making offline widgets. Check out this discussion forum if you want to try to create widgets for offline use.

There is a lot of potential in GeoGebra. Not just for me as an educator to make interactive elements for my students, but for my students to create them as well. I really wish I discovered this at the beginning of summer rather than the end…

iBooks Author Teacher Academy

This summer it looks like I will be helping run an iBooks Teacher Academy for teachers in my school. We’ll be partnering with a local university (more on this later) so we’ll be able to offer SB-CEUs and/or university credit. Our plan is to use this to help leverage the technology we already have in our building. Last summer we bought a cart of iPads and for the most part we’ve only been using them as a portal to the internet. When we bought the cart we knew this would be the primary way it was utilized, but now we’re hoping to move beyond this.

Our secret plan is to get teachers investing in professional development to change the way they think about teaching with technology. Our summer training will only be three four hour days. The focus of the workshop will be split between how to use programs to author interactive iBooks and TPACK (when did this change? I thought it was TPCK). We don’t simply want to show teachers how to use the tools. We want to help them think about how to use the tools to teach better.

So how will we accomplish this in 12 hours? The short answer is we won’t. We’re also planning a series of three to four more 90 minute meetings during the following school year. These will be a chance to get back together and share what we’ve been working on and get feedback. I’m also planning on pushing for an online collaborative component. I’ve run some staff training in the past and I’ve not gotten much traction with any online stuff I’ve done after the fact, so I’m not dead set on including this. I will be thinking about it through and I’ll post details to my blog if anyone is interested on following our progress.

So, why iBooks Author? Because it is really slick. Yes, I know you’re locked into the Apple iPad ecosystem. But, at it turns out that’s ok at thins point. That said I’ll be watching for Inkling Habitat when it becomes available to the public “later this year”. Our focus is not only on the specific tool, but how we can use the tool to create pedagogically appropriate content for our students. This last is what I’m excited about.

Below is a my latest iBooks 2.0 demo video. I made it in part to advertise the possibilities to our staff while at the same time testing out the capabilities of Camtasia Mac 2 and Reflection (which lets me mirror my iPad on my computer). I highly recommend both programs!

Wiimote CPR Trainer?

Wow, this is really cool. Some smart people (Senior engineering students at Univ. of Alabama) out there have written a program to use the accelerometer in a Wiimote to help train people to do CPR correctly. The program is not available yet, but should be on the American Heart Association webstie in early fall 2009.

What makes this really cool is that it is a perfect example of an inquiry based project. While it was developed by seniors in college it could probably have been done by high school students. The skills needed to create this would be within the grasp of students I’ve had. It makes me wonder what other problems could be solved with the accelerometer in a wiimote…

For those interested in cool applications of Wii technology:

cross posted from FlosSceince

Arduino in High School Electronics

I started using Arduino, an open source electronics platform in my one semester electronics course. Arduino incorporates a microcontroller (mini computer) and allows for a lot of really cool options. Last semester was the first semester I used Arduino with the whole class. It went fairly well.

All students were required to create a final project. I gave them the option of working with a partner with the caveat that when they presented their final project I would get to decided which of the two of them would have to answer my questions.

Their projects included not only the circuitry and programming, but students also had to physically build the device. This ended up being a really good project. Even if they chose to build upon a project they found on the net they had to tinker with it to make it do what they wanted it to do.

Once completed, students had to write up and present their projects on Google Sites. If you’re interested you can go to the class site to find descriptions, pictures and Arduino code. Below is a video created by a pair of my students who used an old remote controlled car as the chassis for an autonomous Arduino controlled robot.

Crossposted from FlosScience