Who are the students in my 3D Printing classes?

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At a handful of schools and maker spaces in Hong Kong, I teach a paid, after school class for students interested in the STEAM subjects. The class is quite popular. In the most recent school term, 65 students applied for 36 seats. I guess I must be doing something that has really struck a chord with these students. So who are they? 

How young can they be? 

All students range from 8 to 15 but quite a few parents have come to me asking if their own five or six year old child can learn 3D modeling for 3D printing. The short answer is yes. But there are a few reasons why I think they should wait until they are eight or older. First, working in 3D space can be a challenge, even for adults. It’s why I always teach Navigation in the first lesson. Looking at a flat, 2D computer screen, we are conditioned to see only what’s in front of our eyes and little else. We forget that all six sides of the model also need to fit into its overall structure. And because we are passively using a 2D point of view, the model looks intact when in fact it simply isn’t. 

A floater

Floaters

I’ve seen quite a few student models with “floaters,” or parts, such as a star or some text, that should be attached to another part of the model, but is hanging freely in 3D space. In all cases, these floaters are clearly part of the overall model, but because they forgot to take the two seconds to orbit around their model for a quick check, it’s simply incomplete. (And when they discover this issue, it’s usually time to catch the school bus!) Depending on their numbers, floaters are relatively easy to fix. But it gives you an idea of the students’ abilities. 

Mouse Control

Another reason why I think children should start 3D modeling at age 8 or older is because of mouse control. Perhaps this is my own shortcoming as a teacher, but I don’t use iPads to teach 3D modeling. I prefer a cursor on a laptop because it is far more exact, while you can also take advantage of the shortcuts available from a full keyboard. Should I consider a pen on an iPad? This is a fair question, but it also means there should be enough 3D modeling software available, which are fewer than for laptops. Maybe one day in the future, but not now.

A need for mouse control

The one 3D model that I always start my lessons with, after Navigation, is a simple Table. As simple as this model is, you will be surprised how many students cannot get the legs to line up with the corners of the table top. I think only about 20% of the students were able to get it on their first try. Why is this? An arts teacher once told me young children are not good at measurements. I guess children are still developing their sense of spatial intelligence. With a mouse/cursor, I am hoping this tool can give the children a way to develop this sense. Even if they are still developing their spatial sense, it’s important a tool is available to help in the development. 

In the future, I suspect 3D holograms will replace the mouse for 3D modeling. But that is another story altogether.

More to come!

What’s the best way to teach 3D printing in schools?

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After sharing with you my Lessons Learned after Teaching almost 200 Kids 3D Modeling for 3D Printing in my earlier blog, I now want to do two things:

  1. Share with you in greater detail how I’ve been teaching kids (age 8 and older) 3D modeling for 3D printing and
  2. Examine if I can do it better (your input would be greatly appreciated!)

Cubing from writing 

But let’s start with the questions that I need to ask. Writers and journalists commonly practice various forms of “cubing,” which, aside from being a coincidentally 3D concept, can help me work through the tasks mentioned above. So here are the questions I want to address in the coming months based on these six basic aspects.

The Whos

Who are the students involved? How young can they be? Do they need to have a special skill set, such as good math skills, to learn 3D modeling? Should they have a certain type of proclivity, such as a love for science? Should they be inquisitive? Does extraversion matter? Can they work in a team with their peers?

Who is a suitable teacher to train kids 3D modeling for 3D printing? (Am I a suitable teacher?!) What should their skill set be? Do they need a STEAM background? Do they need an art background?

https://3dinsider.com/3d-printing-schools/

The Whats

Which 3D modeling software should we teach? Should we differentiate based on the students’ age? Can we teach other modeling software at the same time? Is it worth teaching how to use slicing software? Which one or ones? 

Where

Does the school have a Maker Space, or something close to it? Does the space provide the sufficient IT infrastructure? What brand 3D printer(s) do they have? How are the laptops? Can they properly run the needed 3D modeling and 3D slicing software? What about the virtual classroom?

https://3dprint.com/117138/stratasys-free-curriculum/

When

How often can we run 3D printing classes? How long should each class be? Are there benefits to weekend sessions? What about school holidays? What about during the regular class sessions as opposed to after school?

Why

Do you really need to ask?! Because we love 3D printing! But we should ask: how can we get the kids just as excited about it?

How

This is the million-dollar question. How exactly should we teach 3D modeling for 3D printing to kids? How fast can we deliver the information? How much can they absorb in a given amount of time? How useful is repeating the same exercises? Would they be able to apply what they learned quickly? How can we direct them to the more practical applications of 3D printing, especially when most desktop 3D printers just print plastic? How can we sustain their interest?

OK let’s look at the answers in the coming months! If you want to add your own questions, feel free to comment below!

My BIG Plan for 2019

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OK I’ve been involved in 3D printing for four years now and so it’s time to take things up a notch with my BIG PLAN for 2019: pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. What is the FE Exam and why am I taking it? In the USA, the FE exam is typically used by college engineering students as a prerequisite before taking the Professional Engineering (PE) exam in order to be a fully licensed, nationally recognized engineer. But I’m taking the FE exam because it’s a prerequisite for me before I sit for the US Patent Agent exam. What’s the connection to 3D printing? Let me explain!

Since the 1980’s, product designers have been using 3D printing technology to prototype products for their companies. Today, anyone, even kids, can design a product using freely available 3D modeling software, which they can then prototype using extremely affordable 3D printers. But beyond this, kids can also apply to patent their product design! The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows how China and the USA lead the world in terms of patent grants with around 400,000 and 300,000 issued respectively in each of the last three years, so I will start with the US Patent Office exam.

If I can pass the FE exam, it will be a great first step to getting a US Patent Agent license. As a Patent Agent, I will be looking forward to helping anyone with a product idea apply for a US patent (including myself of course!). For the young students I have been working with, this will help them in three seriously important ways:

1. Learning from failure. American inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” During his lifetime, Edison accumulated 2,332 patents worldwide (1,093 in the USA) for his inventions. Obviously, not only did he embrace failing, but he also very likely learned from his failures in order to proceed to the next step. I think learning to cope with failure is a great lesson for young students, a skill they can use throughout their lives. Prototyping their ideas via 3D printing can provide this invaluable training as they work through different design iterations.

An eternal optimist

2. Help on college applications. Obviously, securing a patent will look great on a college application. (In fact, the US Patent Office confirmed to me via email that they have issued patents to minors in the past.) But we also know that securing patents takes a lot of dedication and hard work for the inventor; patents are only granted to truly original ideas and designs. But I would argue that a college application with a series of unsuccessful patent applications could also be just as competitive as a successful application. Why? Because failures are just part of any success story. As Edison also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Show the college admissions board your failures and your ideas to improve on your designs. They will be impressed by your sheer tenacity.

Edison’s most famous patent

3. College financial assistance. In the start-up world, securing a patent is one of the key ways to locking in investor interest and capital investments. Patents also play a key role securing a licensing deal to earn royalties. In either scenario, there are definitely ways to monetizing your patent. With college tuition costs skyrocketing in the last decades, families need ways to counteract these inflationary forces. Proto-typing and securing a patent could be a seriously viable method to doing so.

Can kids really get a patent? With ever-affordable and accessible 3D printing technology, we certainly have the tools necessary to rapid prototype almost any product idea. Just like how computers were once owned only by huge companies with deep pockets, but can now reside in our own personal smart phones, trends in 3D printing are quickly making it possible for the general public to design for themselves. With kids being more creative than adults, I think it will only be natural to see more patent applications from youngsters and patent grants will follow. Passing the FE Exam this year will help me be part of this massive trend. Wish me luck!

Lessons Learned after Teaching almost 200 Kids 3D Modeling for 3D Printing

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One of the biggest perks of teaching is learning from the students. Every time a student gets stuck on an issue from one of his or her own design, it gives me a chance to reinforce my own 3D modeling skills because I am usually looking at a design I’ve never seen before. Some issues are simple to solve, so the solution confirms what I know about the 3D model building process that works. Other issues require using the Undo key multiple times to get back to a position that makes sense to both of us in order for us to move forward again. In both cases, it’s a learning opportunity for me as well as the student.

But more specifically, here are three lessons that I’ve learned teaching almost 200 children, age 8-15, over the last three years 3D modeling for 3D printing.

There’s always another way

Find a balance between “free rein” and “do this”

While it’s true that 3D printing can turn your ideas into reality, you obviously need an idea first. In every first class, I tell the students to come up with three or four of their own ideas, which they can model and 3D print at a future date, while I teach them the tools. But sure enough, some will be scratching their heads when the time comes, unsure about what they can do. Here, depending on the season, for example, Halloween, I will lead them to a dozen or so new modeling ideas. Given the range of ideas, it’s always interesting to see which design they choose based on the complexity level. You can spot the star students here.

Repeating instructions is a necessity, so be patient

These kids are learning to draw in 3D, “graduating” from the 2D world of pencil and paper. I’ve seen adults struggle with it in my other classes, so it’s not exactly a surprise to see children needing more time to move up the 3D learning curve. If you think they understood how to merge a solid with a hole in Tinkercad, think again. And what about that Revolve tool in Fusion? How does that work again? But when they all fully understand the tool, don’t worry; they will let you know, loudly!

The Wonderful Connection between Cooking and 3D Printing

Use cooking as a reference point

I have blogged in the past about “The Wonderful Connection between Cooking and 3D Printing” where I point out that you can build a 3D printable model much like you can cook a dish by following a recipe. But more than this, using cooking as a reference point is very applicable when the children invariably ask to 3D print something they just download off the Internet. “Sorry, no!” I’d say. “I’m teaching you to cook, not to order fast food!” They get it and return to their own designs.

How to Design Star-shaped Earrings with Links – 3D Printing with Kids using Fusion 360!

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Following from our earlier vlog about designing a heart-shared earring with links, here’s how you can quickly change the heart into a star to create a star-shaped earring with the same links. (Ok I should have softened the points on the star to make it more comfortable to wear!)