Elementary Adventures in 3D Printing

Makerspaces are taking shape around the country in many schools. The demand for these opportunities for our students to explore and create is greater than ever before. Anyone can start a Makerspace with minimal or low-tech materials. It truly is about the mindset of the Makerspace that matters most. However, when a school has an opportunity to add some high tech features and tools, it is very exciting as well. We can take our making and creating to a new level.

Our Makerspace is not yet one year old, but has exploded with materials and creativity in making with those materials. We are always expanding, looking for new ways we can tap into our students’ interests. This year, we are embarking on an exciting adventure in our elementary Makerspace – 3D printing!

It truly is about the mindset of the Makerspace that matters most.

While 3D printing may not be new to some, it is new to us and our elementary students. We had to ask several questions when thinking about 3D printing for our students.

  • Why do we want our students to have access to a 3D printer?
  • What purpose would it serve?
  • What printer would we choose for our students?
  • How would we manage what we print?
Our 3D Printer in Our Makerspace
Our 3D Printer in Our Makerspace

Why 3D Printing?

Very simply, 3D printing brings the virtual creation to life. Online design programs, such as Tinkercad, give students the opportunity to create and design 3-dimensional objects. While we begin our students with hands-on materials, the online platform is another level of design. Within this plane, we talk about scale, dimensions, and measurement. We can tie in geometry and computer science standards. We can pose questions to problems for students to solve. The curricular ties are endless in the planning, design, and actual build. With 3D printing, we are building relevance into our curriculum. A 3D print puts that creation in our children’s hands. Why not let our students see the fruits of their online labor?

Choosing a 3D Printer

When choosing a 3D printer, there are many options. We wanted a simple printer, one that would be low-maintenance and easy to put together. In addition, I did not want to buy a bunch of additional hardware to make it run. I did not have the budget to buy a computer to sit next to it, nor did I have the desire to deal with a memory card, transferring it between a computer and a printer. I looked for a printer that students could easily watch at work as well. Since we are just in the beginning stages of our Makerspace and our 3D printing adventure, we decided on a low-cost, cloud-based model, the Polar 3D Printer.

Our Polar 3D Printer
Our Polar 3D Printer

The Polar 3D printer is a great option for any school getting started in 3D printing. It only prints one color at a time. The most compelling feature of this printer was its cloud-based printing capabilities. Files are uploaded to the Polar Cloud, and I can print from anywhere. This was my selling feature. I wanted my teachers to have easy access to the printer and be able to send projects to it easily as well.



Starting Up & Managing Our Printer

Opening the box was a treat! Everything was assembled, and the only piece left to put in place was the printing plate. What surprised me most was the can of hairspray that came with it! I learned the hairspray is used to prep the printing plate. Using the easy-to-find support/tutorial videos from Polar 3D, I was able to quickly figure out how to get everything started. Even more than that, when I had a question, I found all of the videos very helpful, giving quick information that answered my questions.

Once it was assembled, we were ready to print! From the Polar Cloud, I can view the printer, checking to see if it is busy or how it is progressing on a print. Viewing is easy once the printer has been registered and is hooked up to the local wifi connection. In addition, I can upload the .stl file from any location. That is right! As long as the printer is connected to the Internet, I can send the .stl file and print that project from any location. I do not need to be there!

The Polar 3D web interface
The Polar 3D web interface

Throughout the course of the print, I can view its progress online. Information, such as time to print and how much filament is being used, is always available. Once the print is finished, the project can be removed from the plate. If it is stuck, which happened on our first print, I can just pop the plate from the printer, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes, and the project comes off easily.

From the few projects printed so far, the Polar 3D does a great job for our purposes. Maintenance is fairly easy since we only print one color and all it takes is a little hairspray to prep the printing plate. Students will print with whatever color is in the printer at the time. So far, we have had no complaints! Kids are just excited to see their project come to life.

A green 3D printed castle
A 3D printed castle

Multiple users can connect to the same printer, so my teachers are signing up for a Polar 3D account. Through Project Ignite, we are getting students into lessons on 3D design through this platform, as well as access to Tinkercad, where they can design their own project. Once they have a project they want to print, they can simply download the file, share it with their teacher via email or Google Classroom, the teacher uploads the .stl file to the Polar Cloud, checks the printer status, and prints. It is that easy! Teachers will have the ability to decide what prints and when, which empowers them to use it even more.

3D printing is not as daunting as I initially thought it might be. In fact, with our printer and set-up, it has been a breeze. Our students are excited to create and make, and without realizing it, they are applying so many curricular skills along the way. Our adventure in 3D printing is just beginning, and I am thrilled to see where it takes us next!

Ryan Park 3D printed object
Get Making!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Digital Nuisance.

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