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Monday, February 1, 2016

Printing 3D History - Empires Project - Guest Blogger @alidahanson

I've been doing this Empires Museum Project with my AP World students since the first or second year of the course.  It has gone through quite a few transitions, but initially it was mainly a stab at integrating a creative Project-Based Learning opportunity into what seemed to me at the time a very rigid curriculum.  I was a new teacher, and I had not yet discovered the paradigm shift in terms of focusing more on skills rather than content.  For some reason, this year, the project took another spin and after posting the results on the AP World History Teacher's Facebook page,  I got more "LIKES" than any of my other posts ever did.  Many asked about the process, and since I don't have the technical know-how, I invited my colleague, our school's librarian to be a guest blogger for this post.

Guest Blogger: Alida Hanson, WHS Librarian @alidahanson and @WestonHSLibrary
3D printing arrived at Weston High School this year. The printer, requested in a grant by me, the librarian, is a fabulous Ultimaker 2, a highly rated workhorse. Each school in our district received one in August 2015. I knew nothing about printers until I got one of my own. I visited several makerspaces so I knew they existed (and more importantly worked), but actually having one was scary. How would I learn to work this thing?

Our district did something inspiring: they hosted a professional development day this summer about tinkering in the classroom. When we walked in the room, the Ultimakers were humming. Our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, the Technology Director, and the Assistant Superintendent of Finance spent who knows how long unpacking these new machines and getting them to work. If they could do it, so could I!

I took the machine home and got to know it. Dealing with clogs and breezes from the AC became important. I learned how to use Tinkercad, an excellent free 3D modeller. The machine was ready for September. Lest you think all the learning is over, no it’s not! I continually tinker to solve problems and keep the machine printing. Remember, learning = time.

The Ultimaker lives on the front desk of the library. Students are fascinated by it and use it for a variety of personal and curriculum based projects. Personal projects include phone covers, gaming objects, and room decor. Curriculum based projects have been mainly for English, History, and Engineering.

One of the best projects was the Empires exhibit for Angela Lee’s AP World history course. Students created museum exhibits of objects describing the rise, height, and fall of various civilizations. Some students found 3D drawings of artifacts, printed them, and included them in their displays. Experiencing these objects in 3D was richer than seeing them in a photograph.
We saw samurai helmets, Japanese temples, and the Hagia Sofia.  In fact, we printed three copies of the Hagia Sofia for different groups.

Japanese Torii gate being printed
Finished Japanese Torii gate

At one point students realized that the Hagia Sofia model didn’t have enough spires. Then they realized that early in the mosque’s development there were no spires at all--so they clipped off the extra spires and added them where they were needed, creating two iterations of the building. This kind of learning and thinking never would have happened with pictures or a hand built model. The easily duplicated multiples were key.

Students needed to be reminded of scheduling. If many peers are printing for the same project, and the projects take a full day to print, you have to get in line a week or two before the project is due. A number of students came to me on Friday afternoon asking for completed projects on Monday morning. I could not make that happen.

Some people think the 3D printer is a gimmick, adding nothing important to the curriculum. I argue that it adds something important in short supply in school: permission to tinker, go through iterations, and experiment. Students and teachers think of new uses for it every week.

If you want to learn more how to 3D print, take a look at the libguide <http://libguides.weston.org/3dprinting>  I made for students. Pay attention to the vocabulary section. I recommend free software only, so it’s accessible to anyone. I spend a couple of minutes walking the students through the process, and they always come back with the right file with minimal involvement from me.

If you’re thinking of introducing 3D printing to your school, go for it! Be sure you have at least one person who will “own” it, i.e., keep the printer running. That could be a teacher, an aide, or students. In fact, Waltham High School in MA got seven 3D printers six weeks ago which are 100% managed by students. Their printers run all day long.

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