An Interview with DesignMakeTeach

I’ve received 3 interview requests in the past few weeks via email. Takes a chunk of time to respond so I feel like I should at least get a blog post out of the effort. Here is the latest which had a focus on 3D printing in the classroom.
I am a technology resource teacher at Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia. My job is to coach teachers on effective instructional strategies and the integration of technology in the classroom. In my quest to make a difference in classroom instruction, I came across the idea of makerspaces and the maker movement. I was looking for something to revitalize myself professionally and the idea of making in the classroom really resonated.

I developed a personal model of how a makerspace in a school would work. In my Design-Make-Share model, students engage in making to solve a problem, fulfill a need or answer a question. Students go through a process of thinking about the challenge and designing a solution, they then make and iterate their idea and finally the students share their product. Different content areas might call the steps of making in their field by different names. Science teacher might say Hypothesize/Experiment/Publish while a business teacher might say Brainstorm/Build/Market. I think of this process as going from bits to atoms to waves.

I decided to pursue making in the classroom as part of a personal professional development journey. It was 2013, and a 3D printer company named Printrbot offered a special discount for educators that brought the price down low enough for a teacher to afford. I bought a Printrbot LC v2 3D printer and started a blog and a Twitter account to start documenting my explorations in making. Around that time, the book Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager came out. The book identifies three game changing technologies of the maker movement for education; digital fabrication (which includes 3D printing), physical computing and programming. I thought I would explore all three of the technologies equally but ended up falling deeply in love with 3D printing.

Soon after setting up my new 3D printer, I went on a long trip and during the whole drive I was thinking about designs for 3D prints. When I reached my destination, I sat down and filled an entire page with design ideas. My first published design from that page of ideas was the Foldable Cube – Print Flat and is one of my most popular design to date with over 15K views and 3.7K downloads. The 3D printed Foldable Cube inspired a flood of ideas on how it could be used in the classroom. The Foldable Cube was used by a Geometry teacher in my school to help students that were having difficulty with a nets of a cube problem on the Virginia state standardized test. The problem asks student to look at a 2D drawing and determine if it could be folded into a cube. Most students can mentally transform the 2D representation into a 3D object without too much difficulty. Some students have problems initially and the 3D Foldable Cube allowed them to make the physical transformation and figure out how to do that same process mentally.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has played an important role in my thinking about teaching and learning. Maker education in general and 3D printing specifically seem like a perfect fit for addressing the UDL principles of offering multiple means of engagement, representation and action and expression.

Over the years, I’ve continued to develop models and lesson ideas that incorporate 3D printing. Some of the projects that are great starting points are Design a Historical Marker and Tactile Writing Prompts

I think that 3D printing has broad applications in every content area and have worked with teachers in art and math

3D printed manipulatives have proven valuable for teachers working with vulnerable students such as English Language Learners and Special Education students. Whether it is a 3D map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed or 3D printed negative integer dice students benefit from having multiple means of representation available.

One of the reasons, I love 3D printing in the classroom is it allows students to share real products with the world. The process of designing, making and sharing can happen in the classroom and the models can then be printed by anyone with a 3D printer.  Students can work on solving authentic problems using real-world tools and then share those ideas. I’ve helped students work to stop invasive species and to simulate solving a global health crisis.

Students also have an opportunity to contribute to the diversity of the maker community and 3D printing repositories. Sites like Thingiverse are filled with models related to popular culture but have very little that is useful in the classroom related to history, culture or identity. Lack of models related to Hispanic/Latino heritage and culture or African American History gives students the chance to contribute to the world by designing, 3D printing and sharing new models with rich descriptions that explain the importance of these models.

Physical and digital processes are merging in almost every field to create new products and approaches. 3D printing is a way to prepare students to live and work and create in a world that moves seamlessly from idea to physical objects.