Who are the slower students in my 3D Printing classes and how to keep them motivated?


It’s inevitable. No matter how “awesome cool” a class may be, there’s bound to be a few stragglers who are unable to keep up with the other students. I think most teachers understand the mild sense of angst I feel when I come across a student who just seems lost on the most basic steps, taught just a few lessons ago. What happened? Was I not clear enough? Am I teaching too quickly? How can I get this student back in the game? Here’s what I try to do to avoid this situation, before and during the time it happens.

Pre-wire them

During the first class of each course, I present the slide below, strongly recommending they do this homework at the beginning in order to avoid being stuck at a later stage. While 3D printing is a powerful tool to make virtually anything you have in mind, it’s a necessary pre-condition that you have something in mind in the first place. Most times, people don’t get hit with inspiration; it might or might not come. When it doesn’t strike, you need time to think about it or you need to actively look for it. Hence, this is why I set this goal at the very beginning.

Some homework

Following from this, my overall approach is to focus on teaching the 3D modeling tools during the first half of the course, creating my Starter Kit models (more on that in future blogs). By the middle of the course, students should be able to use the tools that they learn to begin to create their own models. This is when it becomes clear who followed my recommendation from the first class and who did not.

Challenge them

So for those who didn’t come up with their own models, I find designs that I think they should be able to do, based on the tools learned so far. For example, after teaching the tools used to make a table and a ring in SketchUp, I challenge them to create any of the following items. 

Can you 3D model these?

I hope that applying the tools that they just learned to make alternative versions of the Starter Kit models will boost their confidence in their CAD skills. I would present these types of challenges with every class because, in my experience, quite a few students simply don’t know what to do. 

When all else fails, use poop

Inspiration can be tricky. Personally, I don’t like force-feeding students because I prefer to treat them as adults. I would tell them to create any of the challenge designs before the end of class, but there is no penalty if they don’t. For the students that still say no to my challenges, I resort to my secret weapon: toilet humor. 

At a recent lesson covering how to make a cup in SketchUp, one student finally got inspired to create her own version of the poop emoji cup. I think she got a good grasp of SketchUp’s Follow Me tool now!

More to come!