Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Videos

The 3d Printing Revolution is Just Beginning

I have zero vision.  When I first heard about 3d printers, I thought, “Isn’t that what factory machines do?  What’s the big deal?”  (I’m also the person who thought drones were just fancy versions of remote control airplanes.)

If you are as skeptical as I was, here are a few articles and videos that might change your mind.

You can find other 3d printer posts on this blog by clicking here.

Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Polar 3D Printer

I am not, by any means, an expert in 3D printers.  I’ve used two different printers in my life.  The first, which was an amazing introduction to 3D printing, worked extremely well for a couple of months.   However, it has been out of commission this school year with various issues, and we are hopefully getting a replacement soon.  The second printer is the Polar 3D, which has been faithfully chugging out prints since we got it in December.  (Thanks to @nathan_stevens for recommending this printer!)

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had problems with the Polar 3D.  In fact, I have a table full of printing mistakes that the students love to pick up and speculate about.

“What did you do wrong here, Mrs. Eichholz?”

“Why didn’t this one work?”

“What was this supposed to be?”

Some of them look like intentional works of art.  A couple of them look like piles of white poop.  One of them, intended to be a dog, looks like one of the mutant creatures in Sid’s yard in Toy Story, it’s head slipped to the side halfway through printing.

But 99% of those were user error.  Either a student forgot to take into account that the printer won’t print in thin air, or (much more likely) I forgot to do something before I started the print.

Here are the things I like about the Polar 3D:

  • It’s small, and fairly portable.
  • There aren’t a lot of parts to maintain.
  • Software is cloud-based (so I don’t have to rely on our district to update it).
  • It’s fairly inexpensive.  (With educator discounts, you can purchase it for about $600.  Our classroom got ours through Donors Choose.)
  • Polar 3D’s customer service is great.
  • I can keep tabs on it from any computer, and it has a camera that streams so I can make sure my print is continuing as planned.
  • I can usually fix what’s wrong with it by calibrating it or pushing the filament in more.
  • I have never had a jammed extruder.

What could be improved about the Polar 3D:

  • The small heart attack I had when it wouldn’t connect to our district network was not fun.  But Customer Service was a HUGE help.
  • The “remaining time” for a print is not always entirely accurate.  I started a print today that, for 30 minutes, said it would take about 50 minutes to complete.  I looked again 15 minutes later, and it said it would take about 4 hours to complete.  BIG DIFFERENCE!
  • The print quality is medium, but perfectly fine for the projects we do in our classroom.  I wouldn’t use it to design a prosthetic or a new lung, though.

Interesting fact about the Polar 3D:  the best way to prep your build plate for printing is to spray it down with layers of Aquanet Hairspray (be sure to let them thoroughly dry).

Yep. You read that correctly.  You even get a starter can of Aquanet with your printer.

Another interesting fact: I didn’t even know Aquanet was still in business.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the Polar 3D for classroom teachers and school libraries.  It’s a great tool to introduce design thinking, and I feel like amateurs like me can troubleshoot the problems fairly easily.

Plus, the Aquanet is great for bad-hair days.  Though possibly not entirely great for me to be smelling on a regular basis…

If you would like some more advice on purchasing a 3D printer for your school, check out this article.

Polar 3D

Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Project Ignite

I briefly mentioned Project Ignite yesterday, and would like to explain the site today for those interested in using it.  I first found out about Project Ignite from my colleagues on the #makered Twitter chat (every Tuesday, 8 PM CST).  I am, by no means, an expert on Project Ignite.  However, I can give you a few tips that I’ve learned when using it with my students.

A site from Autodesk, Project Ignite includes projects from two Autodesk products – Tinkercad and 123D Circuits.  I have only used the Tinkercad projects so far.

Tinkercad is the design program my students use for creating objects for our 3D printer.  You can have students directly log in to Tinkercad, but there are a few reasons you may want to use Project Ignite to introduce them to the program instead of going straight to Tinkercad.

  • Project Ignite allows teachers to create classrooms and assign projects within those classrooms.  Projects can even be assigned through Google Classroom.
  • Students can sign in with Google credentials, and join the Project Ignite class with a code. (Click on “more providers” when you get to the login window in order to see the Google option.)
  • Teachers are able to view the progress of their students on projects at any time from one dashboard.
  • Project Ignite is less overwhelming for students who are just learning.
  • Project Ignite includes specific projects with step-by-step instructions.  They are labeled by difficulty level. There is also a “Freestyle” project, which you can assign if you don’t see the specific objective you want to address in the projects on the site.

Parental consent is needed for students under 13 to use Project Ignite and Tinkercad.  (You can find a Parental Consent form here, or use one that your district provides.) Once students get comfortable, they can log on directly to Tinkercad to design and remix other projects.  Since Tinkercad does have a Gallery to which anyone can publish, it is possible inappropriate material will appear.  However, the Gallery option does not appear on Project Ignite.

If,  you don’t know anything about Tinkercad (like me when I first started last year), you might want to go through some of the Project Ignite beginner lessons yourself to gain some familiarity.  Tinkercad also has a great tutorial page.  You can scroll down to the bottom for a few short videos that include an overview of Tinkercad.  Older students usually move on the Sketchup or other design software, but I find Tinkercad is just the right level for my elementary students.  My students picked up Tinkercad faster than me, and teach me something new every time we design.

The only downfall that I’ve found with Project Ignite is that I would love to see more projects from which to choose.  The site is looking for more contributors, so if you think you have a wonderful 3D printing lesson to add, click here.

For more information about 3d printing in elementary school, you might want to visit my post on factors to consider when choosing a 3d printer and/or my post on curriculum integration.

Splash page of a Project Ignite lesson
Page 2 of the Buoyancy lesson from Project Ignite


Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Using 3D Printers in the Classroom

In yesterday’s post about purchasing 3d printers for schools, I maintained that these printers shouldn’t be bought for the sake of having the latest and greatest technology on your campus.  If you are going to add one to your inventory, it should be with the purpose of enhancing student learning – not merely as a tool to print school buttons or statues of your mascot.

Last summer, I wrote a guest blog post  for Free Technology for Teachers  in which  I mentioned that our campus was gifted with a 3d printer.  We were motivated to find meaningful curriculum that would make use of the printer’s abilities.  Such curriculum is difficult to find at the moment, since 3d printers have only recently become affordable enough for many schools.

If you are interested in introducing Design Thinking, try the free City X curriculum, which my colleague, Angelique Lackey, and I will be presenting at TCEA in Austin on February 4th.  While you lead students through the process of innovating to solve a problem, they learn the difficulties that must be overcome, and the satisfaction of working hard to finally produce their ideas.  In this program, students hear the story of a fictional settlement on an alien planet and learn that the residents need our help with specific problems they have encountered.  They work through the design process to create ideas that are possible solutions.

Project Ignite is a source of more curriculum integration ideas.  This site is like a Google Classroom for design thinking, allowing teachers to create classes and assign projects to students who join their classrooms with codes.  In fact, the projects can directly be assigned to Google Classroom, and students can log in to Project Ignite with their Google credentials.  The 3d printer projects are assigned through Tinkercad.

My 2nd grade students are currently using the design process to “Build a Better Lunchbox.”  They have been learning about structures and biomimicry, and using that knowledge to improve lunchbox design.  (I am planning to do a separate post on this in the future.  We are in the midst of it, and right now it looks to have 50% potential for success and 50% potential for epic disaster!)

In a modification to our Genius Hour projects, the 3rd and 4th grade students in my class are using an idea I got from the City X curriculum and a training with Venture Lab to design solutions to real-word problems.

These specific projects, obviously, do not fit the standard curriculum.  Students can synthesize their learning about sinking and floating by designing a new boat, or apply what they’ve learned about energy to inventing an alternate energy vehicle.  They can demonstrate what they’ve learned about measurement by designing a specific shape or a scale model. Another example would be to augment a presentation for social studies by representing the changes in a certain invention over time.

A 3d printer can become another way for students to demonstrate understanding of a concept.  Not all students will prefer this method. After the initial introduction to designing for 3d printing, this can become another choice out of many tools for final projects.  As a teacher, you can make this opportunity available to your students, helping them to be creators rather than mere consumers of another exciting technology.

Here is a link to ideas to consider before purchasing a 3d printer for your school or classroom.  Angelique Lackey and I will be presenting the City X curriculum at TCEA in Austin this year on February on February 4th.

Foolsball - a new sport designed by a 5th grader for the fictional residents of City X
Foolsball – a new sport designed by a 5th grader for the fictional residents of City X




Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Thinking About Buying a 3D Printer for your Classroom?

Are you thinking about buying a 3D printer for your school or classroom?  Before you buy something that could turn into a very expensive paperweight, I recommend you consider these factors.

How is a 3D printer going to enhance your curriculum?  Are you going to buy it first and explore the possibilities, or do you already have ideas for utilizing it with students to benefit their learning?  If you would give the second answer, keep reading.  If it’s the first, you need to do more research.  If the sole purpose of the printer will be to perform as a 21st century copy machine operated only by the teacher, then you will be doing your students an injustice, as the cost would definitely outweigh the benefits.  The only reason to buy a 3d printer for your classroom is so that students can learn and create.

Once you decide that this printer will benefit student learning and you have concrete ideas for curriculum integration, then you need to think about some down-to-earth questions like these:

  1. What will my district support?  This is a complex question.  You need to find out from the manufacturer if there is software that must be downloaded.  If so, will your district allow downloads and updates?  If the printer is managed through “the cloud” instead, will the website be available to you or is it restricted?  If you have problems with your printer, will there be technical support through your district?
  2. How much can you afford to spend to purchase and maintain the printer?  The initial cost needs to be considered, of course.  But what about the cost of filament for the printer and replacing parts that aren’t under warranty?  Who will provide the money for this?
  3. Speaking of replacing parts, have you researched the customer reviews and the support portion of the manufacturer’s website?  Sometimes the support forums are only accessible to people who have purchased the printer, but you can often find outside opinions on the reliability of the machine through a simple Google search.
  4. Will your students be able to access design software, such as Tinkercad, to create for the 3D printer?  Do the students need permission to use it?  (If they are under 13, most cloud-based design programs require parental consent.)
  5. Where will the printer be located?  Does it need to be somewhat portable so several different teachers can bring it to their classroom for use, or will it have a central location like the school library?  This can help you determine the size of the printer.  Also, consider printer storage when over school holidays and long breaks.
  6. How will you determine what gets printed?  Will students be charged based on the amount of filament used?  Will there be criteria for acceptable prints, such as size, print time, and subject matter?

These additional links may be helpful as you search for the ideal printer for your situation.  Keep in mind that new 3D printers are coming on the market at a fast pace, so it’s important to check the dates on reviews and comparisons for the most up-to-date information.

In tomorrow’s post, I will give you some ideas for curriculum integration with 3d printing.  My colleague, Angelique Lackey, and I will be presenting on one curriculum idea, City X, at TCEA 2016 in Austin on February 4th.

"RepRap v2 Mendel" by RepRap Project ( - Open-source RepRap Project ( Licensed under GFDL via Commons -
“RepRap v2 Mendel” by RepRap Project ( – Open-source RepRap Project ( Licensed under GFDL via Commons –
Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Parenting, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Legos are Awesome

There. I said it.  I never thought I would.  Growing up, I had ZERO interest in Legos.

As an adult, I’ve continued to have ZERO interest in Legos.

Until a couple of years ago.

It turns out that Legos are a lot more versatile than I thought.

I briefly related my newfound respect for Legos in one of the posts I did for my Maker Space Essential Series.  If you do a search on my blog, you will find plenty of other posts related to Legos.

Since this is the National Week of Making in the United States, I thought I would curate a few more resources for you that offer opportunities to use Legos for more than just following the instructions in the box.

Make Magazine has an online page of Lego Ideas, which includes how to make a Lego puzzle.

The Lego Quest blog has 52 Lego challenges on it, one of which was to use Legos to represent a favorite song.

image from Lego Quest
Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” – image from Lego Quest

Finally, here are 25 Lego Learning Activities, which include making a balloon powered Lego car.

Don’t have your own Legos?  Well, you might have great success, as I did, just asking for donations.  Or, you could always make your own, like this student did on his home 3D printer to make a gift for me. (He made the green ones.)

3d Printed Legos

Yep. I used to think the only way Legos could make me cry would be to embed themselves in the bottom of my bare feet at inopportune moments.

Now they make a different kind of impression on me.