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Somerset schools are exploring the excitement of 3D printing. This technology enables learners to plan, design and solve problems, and can support the teaching of Design and Technology, Maths and Science.

More resources from Somerset schools will be added during 2015. Here are some links and ideas to get you started.

The 3D printing process

While the results of 3D printing can be incredible, and it's an exciting addition to your classroom, getting to grips with the process can be daunting for first-time users. John Davitt talks about the concept of 'struggleware' -  the "process of “scratch your head” challenge that occurs when you are trying to do or make something new that requires deep-thought, iterative experiment and heavy doses of failure on the way towards deeper understanding."  3D printing can be an exercise in struggleware!

Think of the process as having three steps:

1. Design a product:

  • Consider what you'd like the learners to create - can it support a Topic, Geography or Science focus, or are you making links to Maths and Design & Technology? See Simon Haughton's planning below. Tinkercad has lots of projects that are ready-made and can be used as a starting point to show learners how the printer works. 
  • Choose appropriate CAD (computer aided design) software to design the product - TinkerCAD, Sketchup Make and 3DTin are a good place to start.
  • Save your product design as a file that your 3D printer software can read e.g. an .stl or .obj file.

2. Prepare for printing:

  • Export the file you've created in Step 1 and open it in your 3D printer's software - e.g. if using a MakerBot printer, open the file you've made in their MakerWare software
  • This is your last chance to trouble-shoot before printing - check what the product will look like and make final changes.
  • Save the final file as a type that your printer can read and save to a USB stick or SD card (depending on your printer).

3. Print and review

  • Put your USB stick or SD card into the printer and browse to the file you've saved.
  • Make sure your printing filament is connected correctly.
  • Make sure the printing plate is flat.
  • Print and see what happens!
  • Review the finished product - does it look like you expected? If not, can you go back to your design and debug the problem?


Tools and software for designing 3D products

TinkerCAD: one of the most popular websites for 3D design; suitable for upper primary pupils. Requires an account to be created for each user, and allows access to the TinkerCAD community where learners can open others' projects and modify the design.

Tinkerplay: iPad and Android app (previously known as Modio) to design creatures based on a library of modifiable parts.

Google SketchUp Make:  downloadable software for 3D design. Powerful and suitable for upper KS2

3DTin: free, web-based 3D modeling tool that is aimed at beginners. Requires an account to be created, but you also get access to the library of Creative Commons 3D models.

123D Sculptplus: iPad app to create amazing 3D characters. Design your creature, then sculpt detailed features before adding skin, fur or feathers as surface texture.

Thingiverse: MakerBot's website of ready-made 3D printing projects, suitable for MakerBot printers only. Using these projects will remove Step 1 (the design phase) of the printing process but may be useful for teachers wanting to show learners how the printer works.

Planning for 3D printing

Simon Haughton's planning for using Google SketchUp - very thorough explanation of how to use SketchUp to design houses. Suitable for Year 5/6; includes video tutorials.

Somerset schools using 3D printers

Holy Trinity Primary (Taunton) used a MakerBot Replicator 2 for half a term. Izzy, one of the Digital Leaders at the school, explains what they did:

"The 3d printer would cost £1400 to buy it permanently. But unfortunately we have only got it until Christmas. But we did have to pay for the filaments and Mr Milton’s and Mrs Burgess’s training and 4p per gram of the filament which makes the plastic models and prints them.  Firstly we logged on to TinkerCAD to design our objects, it was lots of fun and exciting. We made a creeper, water bottle and the deathly hallows symbol."

At Holy Trinity Primary (Yeovil), pupils from Year 1 to Year 6 used the 3D printer to create name plates and buildings. Adam Freeman, the class teacher leading the project, used a range of resources to explore designing for printing. Year 1s used the MakerBot Print Shop app for iPad, and older learners used Google SketchUp Made to design more complex products. There were links made to Maths - the use of negative numbers to emboss names on buildings - and Design and Technology. The school also used the Solid Inspector add-on for SketchUp to identify problems with the design before it was printed.

Adam shared the following tips for successful printing:

  • Look at a  range of apps and software to design your products - the school didn't want to use TinkerCAD as it was web-based and needed a login; SketchUp was more appropriate for their network and set-up. Apps can work well for young learners but you need to be able to save the file you've created and send it to the printer, so make sure you have a way of either emailing the file or getting it off the device somehow.
  • Check that the plate you're printing on is flat and dry otherwise the product can 'lift' (curl up at the edges)
  • Check that the guarantee on the printer is sufficient for classroom practice - many manufacturers offer a 3 month guarantee, which isn't enough for a primary school