By Phil Cotton. Teacher and founder of learnbylayers.
When I first started teaching 3D printing in 2011 it was a lonely place. 3D printing in the classroom was a totally new concept. There were no support groups openly available, support from manufacturers was limited and resources to teach in the classroom just didn’t exist.
I wasn’t aware of other teachers who were using the technology in lessons. Social media was in it’s infancy and teacher networking was a more local affair rather than global. I was in my third year of teaching and I knew that this 3D printer in my classroom would change everything.
I remember unboxing the 3D printer and in front of my class and asking them what shall we design next week? The immediate response from my students was an iphone case. This was in the days when 3D printing was still in startup mode, makerbot was only just emerging, the iphone 4 was the latest smart phone to own and siri hadn’t been developed yet. Smart watches were still science fiction and the thought of us all talking to a small black box in our houses (Alexia) was just plain crazy.
So that was it, my first lesson with the 3D printer was teaching my class of 14 year olds how to design iphone cases. We had Pro-Desktop installed on our school computers and I had a week to develop a lesson. I had contact with local teachers but non had a 3D printer or had really heard of them.
That week seemed like a year when getting to grips with the machine. Design and Technology teachers are adaptable to new technology in the classroom. We have to be to so we can stay relevant and teach the latest technology, but the concept of 3D printing was an uncharted area mainly down to a complete lack of resources for education. I had the instruction booklet and my CAD knowledge along with a supportive classroom technician.
So I set off on creating all the resources for the following week. Typical of teachers, it was a Saturday morning task, creating the CAD model to 3D print and the accompanying lesson resources. This was the outcome, my first ever 3D print. Created on a ‘Bits from bytes 3D touch’ at 0.5mm layer height using yellow PLA on an ABS raft.
So my first lesson teaching 3D printing went as follows. I taught the students CAD and ploughed through the designing aspect, when in the background of the workshop I had set the 3D printer going, printing out the model. Quite conveniently it took 1.5 hours to print and with lessons lasting 1 hour and 40 minutes, it was printed before the end.
During the lesson students were up and down from their computers watching the print progress, at that point I knew that this would have long lasting impact upon the future of my classroom lessons. The result of the lesson was students wanted more 3D printing. The buzz went round the school and the numbers of students opting to take Design and Technology as a GCSE maxed out.
So what’s this blog post all about? One of the most powerful characteristics of education and teachers is how we collaborate and help each other. I wanted to share practical 3D printing tips for the classroom that would have helped me out all those years ago. This is a follow on from a blog I wrote last year on quick tips for the classroom. These are a few of the things I have found useful from a teachers viewpoint. If I had knew some of the things in this list, it would have saved me hours of time and lots of stressful moments.
Teachers Classroom tip 1
When starting out with 3D printing use CURA basic settings to start slicing models. CURA is so user friendly and can be used in recommended settings and then when you get more confident you can switch to customised mode.
One of the main benefits of CURA is the ability to add multiple printer profiles and switch between them with ease. Many teachers have multiple different brands of 3D printers in their classrooms and the ability to stick to one slicing software is a massive time saver. This makes the work flow of preparing files far more efficient and hassle free. A massive time saver for teachers.
Classroom tip 2
Buy a set of different size nozzles. One of the criticisms of 3D printing is that it is too slow. This is down to the machines printing at extremely small layer heights. The answer to this is simple, switch out the nozzle for a larger size so you can print in thicker layers. Ask yourself, ‘do you really need every model to be as defined and detailed as possible?’
By switching from a 0.4mm nozzle to a 0.8mm can save you hours of printing time. This will allow you to print with a thicker layer height, decreasing the print time. When you have class sets of students designs to print out this can be a life saver. You can buy replacement nozzles from amazon.
Teachers tip 3
Use a socket when changing nozzles. Don’t waste time messing about with long nose pliers and never EVER attempt to use your hands, you will get severely burnt. When changing the nozzle you have to heat it up before you remove it. By using a socket from a socket set this will allow you to swap out a nozzle in under a minute and minimise the risk of getting burns. Also when you finish unscrewing the nozzle it will sit in the socket rather than falling from the extruder.
If you are a teacher in a hurry then this is a quick and easy way to swap out the nozzle hassle free. Remember to change the nozzle settings on CURA before slicing new files otherwise you won’t get a consistent outcome.
Classroom teachers tip 4
When 3D printing with support on CURA, use the ‘touching build plate’ setting rather than the ‘everywhere’ setting. This will mean that only the minimal amount of support is added ensuring that your model doesn’t get support in unnecessary places. This will save you time and money in reduced material costs.
If you want to analyse your supports, then on the top right of the screen, use the drop down box and switch to ‘layer view’. This will show you what the model will look like with supports added and also allow you to simulate the printing travel process. This is great for demonstrations in the classroom when explaining how slicing works.
Teachers tip 5
Buy a bag full of silica packs, they will help prolong the life of your PLA. The problem with PLA is it can absorb moisture and lose it’s tolerance resulting in swelling in the nozzle when 3D printing.
This can be a major cause of blockages and print failures. Many a time I have tried to print with old PLA and had no joy, then when opening a brand new pack things are fine.
To help prolong the life of half used filament, seal the roll in a bag and throw some silica packs in to help absorb the moisture. These can be bought cheap from amazon or ebay.
So that’s my tips as a starting point of teachers 3D printing in the classroom. There are many more and I will follow on with an another blog. If you want to get in touch and ask any questions about how the learnbylayers curriculum can help you in the classroom then send me a message using the form below.