Sunday, October 05, 2014

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.

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.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

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.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reflections from Blended Learning in the Classroom

I've been taking an online course through REMC called Blended Learning in the Classroom. As a part of the required work are a number of reflections and such. I've not been blogging much lately, so I figured I'd share some of these reflections.

Student with Whiteboard

The Prompt: Share at least one reason why creating a collaborative community within the online portion of your learning environment is important.

I may get in trouble here, but I'm going to say that creating a collaborative community within the online portion of my learning environment is not important. In the past I would have agreed that an online community was important, but in going through the beginnings of this module I found my feelings changing. This is due partly to the readings and partly to reflection on my past experiences.

Building an online community of practice has been one of the things I have been struggling with since reading Brown & Adler (2008) 5-6 years ago. The best experience I ever had with this was years ago when I used Ning to create a social network for my physics classes. This was only a partial success at best. Only a small number of students, three out of 90, really joined the community. Those students truly got a lot out of our Ning. My other students would go in only to make the required posts and responses. The next year I had only one student who tried to engage in a meaningful collaborative community online.

While I don't believe there has to be an online collaborative community in a blended class I do believe every course should include a collaborative community. As pointed out by Misanchuk & Anderson (2014) both Vygotsky and Moore and Kearsley highlight to the importance of collaboration between students. Vygotsky contends, "All higher-order functions originate as the relationships among individuals.” While Moore and Kearsley contend that learner to learner interactions are just as important as learner to content or learner to instructor interactions.

There is no real reason why, in a blended environment, that a collaborative community could not be built in the face to face portion of the course rather than the online portion. It is important to create a strong community that fosters collaboration. If this can already be done within the four walls of the classroom why do we need to force it into the online portion of the class?

I think part of the problem I've had in the past relates to the fact that all of my students see each other every day at school. The online community has always been extra. Virtually all of the community building I would like to see happen online is already happening in the face to face portion of my classes, making the online portion a bit superfluous.

There may still be some benefits to shifting community to an online environment, however. It would allow all discussions to be archived, shy students may feel more free to speak up, and all students would be able to have a voice. However, when techniques like Modeling Discourse Management (Desbien, 2002) are employed many of these concerns can be addressed in the traditional classroom removing the need for an online community.


Brown, John Seely, & Richard P. Adler. (2008). “Minds of Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.” EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32 retrieved from:

Desbien, Dawin. (2002). Retrieved from article.pdf

Misanchuk, Melanie, and Tiffany Anderson. (2014). "Building community in an online learning environment: communication, cooperation and collaboration." Abstract. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. Article.pdf


Friday, January 24, 2014

Do I even need a Laptop Anymore?

A bit of a rambling post for a snow day:

I realized the other day that I almost never carry my laptop to school anymore. It's not particularly outdated, but I usually just leave it plugged in at home. I now treat my laptop the way I used to treat my desktop and I use my iPad the way I used to rely on my laptop. This is kind of funny as I'm often told people don't use iPads to get work done in the real world. I do it all the time, but then maybe being a high school teacher doesn't qualify me as working in the real world.

I've been teaching for 14 years now and until recently I carried a laptop to and from school everyday. This has become unnecessary for me with the advent of cloud services like DropBox and iCloud. If I need something more than my iPad at work I sit at a desktop computer in my classroom. But for the most part I get my work done on my iPad.

I think the lack of iPad use for "Real Work" is less about capability than about comfort. Most people in the workforce today grew up with the traditional keyboard-mouse paradigm. I wonder if we'll see a shift in the next decade as tablet use continues to rise. For me I've gotten so used to working with my iPad that when I sit at a computer I have to be really careful when I type lest I fail to use apostrophes or forget to capitalize the first word in a sentence or personal pronouns.

I would say more than 90% of my current computing needs are met by my iPad and it's hard to justify luging around a laptop for that remaining 10%. A couple years ago I decided I'd never buy a new desktop computer. Now I'm not so sure. When my current MacBook dies I will be very tempted to replace it with a desktop computer with more power and a bigger screen than a comparably priced laptop and rely on a tablet (probably an iPad) for my mobile computing needs.

What does this mean for education? I don't really know. But I get really tired of people telling me we need to teach our kids for the world as it looks today. I simply don't care if most of the world currently uses Microsoft Word. Before the June 2007 most people only carried flip phones and the only smartphones business executives carried were made by Balckberry. Less than seven years later it's almost impossible to buy a phone that isn't a smartphone and almost none of them are Blackberries. We need to focus more on teaching students to be adaptable rather than teach them skills and hope the world doesn't change.

Image Credits: ipad.02.png from

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Walking the Walk - Creating video for students with only an iPad

Next year my school will begin it's 1:1 iPad program. We're starting slow with only the freshman class, so it will take us four years before we're totally 1:1. I've been tasked with helping get teachers ready for the flood of technology headed our way. One of the ways I've been doing this is through iTunes U courses for professional development. One of these is Flipping with an iPad.

I've been making videos to use with my students for years on my computer with Camtasia Mac using a Bluetooth Wacom tablet and Sankore for annotating on the screen. But these take me a while to make. A lot of this time is spent in the set up. I've been urging some teachers to lecture less in class and to use videos as replacements. I know lecture is not the best way to deliver content, but when starting a revolution we have to begin somewhere. So I decided to make a series of videos using only my iPad so I would have a much better idea of what was involved. I'll be adding all of my lessons learned to my iTunes U course. 

I'll call these videos Quickcasts, not because they're short, but because I want to make them quickly. The goal for a 5-10 min video will be no more than 20-30 min from set up to upload. This first one took a bit longer than that, but future ones will go much quicker. I learned a lot getting it together. Here's how I did it.



I used Explain Everything to capture all the video and screen writing. I used the Notier stylus for annotating and drawing. I've tried many styluses and this one works best for me. Over the years I've become more of an audio snob with my videos, so I have to have a microphone. I used the Rode smartLav. This was the first time I used it, so I still have a bit to learn about proper placement and such. My next video should sound better. On a side note, I've also played with the microphone built into my iPhone ear buds, I'm not sure how much better the Rode microphone is.

I also used Explain Everything to create the intro clip. It was too slow so I wanted to speed it up. Unfortunately iMovie on my iPad 2 could only slow down the video, not speed it up. I'm not sure if newer iPads can speed up video or not. So I took the clip into Pinnacle Studio to double the speed. I could have finished the video here, but I wanted to gain some experience with iMovie on my iPad, so I took the clip back to iMovie. All of our teachers already have iPads with iMovie.

The intro music was created in NodeBeat HD. This is a fun little app that I picked up a couple years ago while it was free. Moving audio around on an iPad can be problematic, but I was able to email the file to myself from NodeBeat and then import it to my project in iMovie. I could have used GarageBand to create the intro as well. Then I rendered the video to my camera roll and used YouTube Capture to upload. It is possible to upload directly from iMovie, but I also wanted the saved video file to drop into my iTunes U course anyway.

Next time I will position my microphone differently so the levels won't be too high. The intro clip with music is done so I'll just reuse it again. I may also spend a little more time prepping slides in Explain Everything so the video itself can be shorter. While nice at times, students don't need to watch me write every word on the screen in real time.