Most people (at least the ones I know) head off some where for Spring Break. This can be as simple as a trip to the parents or going to Disney World. This Spring Break, while the family was busy dealing with colds (myself included), I tested the Solidoodle we are currently using for our new STEAM art curriculum. As I posted previously, I have been melting up a storm (Alice Keeler). As many of you know, 3D printers are an up and coming technology in schools from elementary all the way to college level. About a few weeks before our Donors Choose closed for our STEAM Art room, I was working on a partnership with our local tech club to secure the use of a 3D printer until the end of the school year. This worked out perfectly as they had not used their three Solidoodle Pro 2s since unboxing them earlier last year.
After a few test and trials and spectacular FAILS, I got the hang of using the 3d Printer. So, what are the pros and cons with using this in the classroom?
- They are very simple to use. Even though I had previous experience using Perler Beads and Makerbot 2s, using the Solidoodle was relatively simple. It was an easy plug in, heat the tray, add in some glue stick or hairspray to make sure the prints stick to the tray while printing and depending on the file, I had some awesome creations. It was just checking in on the prints from time to time to make sure nothing was happening.
- For learning, a 3D printer goes with any school with a one to one program from iPads to chromebooks. The Solidoodle or other related 3D printers are pretty universal. Students can create their prints on any device and easily transfer them to the printer. Depending on the size and shape, you should see the looks on students and teachers’ faces when they see their creation in their hands. This is a great way to scaffold or build using either coding or design. It uses all the letters of STEAM, especially art.
- They are pretty inexpensive, you can buy a simple Flashforge for less than $600 and a top brand like Ultimaker or Makerbot for less than $1,500 and that is with filament. Many think that the filament is going to run out fast if there are multiple prints. That is not true, I built multiple and large prints in a few hours and the filament was barely used more than one complete rotation of the spool. While I don’t recommend creating large prints all the time (more on that later). You aren’t going to run out of filament like you are going to with a toner cartridge from making too many color or black and white prints.
- There is an entire network out there! From Maker Club to Thingiverse, there tons of websites for students to get started using templates to get started before students and teachers can move on to programs like Tinkercad or 123D Design. The sky is the limit for innovation and creation.
- Time: The biggest con I have found with using a Solidoodle or 3D printer is time. The average time for a student created 3D print can from from 2-3 hours. So, if you have a class size of 25. Just do the math and you can see how many prints can be done in a normal school day or even class. I also found with the Solidoodle 2 Pro, is keeping an eye on it just to make sure the prints are getting built correctly and aren’t have any tangles or over heating. Which brings up my next con.
- When you get a tangle, they can really mess up prints. The Solidoodle 4 (current model) have solved a lot of tangle problems since the 2 by feeding it better. However, I have witnessed first hand filament getting caught or stuck and then breaking off and messing up prints. I have found giving a little extra slack to the spools 95% of the time keeps this from happening, but it can still happen for the strangest reasons (like a ladybug deciding to look at the extruder). While the Solidoodle has corrected a lot of these feed problems in the current models. Keep an eye out for it even if you are using a Polar or Ultramaker, because it will happen.
- Tray attachment. Doesn’t matter if you use a simple glue stick or hairspray, sometimes the heated tray will not stick correctly to prints on the first try, even if the filament is coming out of the extruder no problem. If you do run into an attachment problem. Kill your job, double check to make sure the tray is sticky or hot enough and then start the job again. You will know right away if its not attaching and I see this as the number 2 problem with 3D printers, but they don’t happen often.
- Not enough play. I was fortunate enough to play with the 3D printer over break, but a lot of classrooms don’t do this outside the teacher. I highly recommend having students do at least 3 keychain or token prints before they start working on more complex and larger designs. Sometimes classrooms do a regular lesson or assignment and its time to move on to the next printing experience. Students either get bored since there is no experimenting or they have to move on before they really get a chance to cut loose with the prints. While you can build and scaffold with a 3D printer due to time, don’t limit students to just follow the text book, let them play.I’ll have more in the days ahead, but if you are thinking of getting a 3D printer or just getting started, these are tips to look at.