How to implement/promote collaborative learning in the 3D printing classroom

In those careless childhood years, when play is a vital part of development, many an enchanting scenario is dreamt up in the minds of our young ones. What is it that so many children dream of? Even from a young age they start to develop their own distinct personalities and create their own worlds inside their vivid imaginations. Regardless of what the product of those imaginations may be, given the capability to make those imagined creations come to life, what child would not jump at the chance to design their own toy or dreamt up character?

Posable figurine designed by Shekou American International School Students

Simple to use Tinkercad

As many of you may have found from reading the various blogs on the 3D Roundhouse website, never has there been another time in history where it’s become so easy for anyone, young or old, to make their ideas a reality, thanks to the magic of 3D printing and simple software like Tinkercad.

Some of those who have been dabbling in 3D printing for a while may be familiar with Modio (, which was later rebranded to Tinkerplay when Autodesk acquired it. Modio was a fun iPad app developed by an independent team, which allowed the user to create an action figure out of a selection of snap fit parts. Sadly this app was canned shortly after Autodesk acquired it, along with a bunch of other promising apps Modio had developed.

Despite this unfortunate series of events, Autodesk at least had the wisdom to include some of those connector parts in Autodesk’s aforementioned 3D design platform Tinkercad.

Tinkercad Connectors

Many of our readers are likely to be aware of Tinkercad through the many tutorials we have on our website, but perhaps you were unaware of these useful Connectors. Let’s take a look at how to get started with these connectors and some useful tips I’ve gained from some projects I did with my 6th and 7th grade students.

On opening a new design session in Tinkercad, we can click on the shapes menu on the right and navigate to Connectors. There are also some pre-designed characters, which utilize the snap connectors, namely a dinosaur and a skeleton. These can be found in the printable kits section. Once selected, they can be printed out and assembled. Students could even mismatch the parts to create some interesting creations.

The key thing to keep in mind when having your students design with connectors is to make sure they lock the components. No matter how many times you tell your students, “Don’t scale the connectors or they won’t snap together” they will more than likely do so, even if not doing so consciously.

Once locked, the components cannot be moved, rotated or grouped. Therefore a good practice would be for the teacher to design a template Tinkercad project with all of the right connectors in the correct positions for the students to then add their own parts to. If any minor tweaks are required you can always unlock the components, keep an eye on the student while they make the changes and then re-lock them when finished.

More complex parts like the torso are best assigned to the more capable students

In our class, we assigned each student a part of the body to work on. I explained to the students that they needed to communicate well in order for this project to work. Unfortunately, one or two students weren’t listening and used only socket connectors on both of their designs. The result, all but two of the parts could fit together to make up the stick man’s upper body. I allowed the students to build the model themselves so they would discover the issue. I believe learning from mistakes is a big part of the students’ learning process and so allowing for failure and building a discussion around it shouldn’t be shied away from.

However I pre-printed some correct parts also so they wouldn’t be so disheartened.

We hope this blog post has inspired you. Have you tried anything similar? Do you plan to try this kind of activity in your classroom? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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