16 Tips for 3D Printing with your Students

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16 tips for 3D printing with students

3D printing is a field full of so much possibility!   Whether you’re just getting into it or you’re a pro, it can be a fantastic addition to the classroom and your teaching repertoire.  Let students explore and learn right along with you!

My 3D Printing Booklet  is perfect to use for a whole-group introduction to this topic or a related lesson.  Along with the book there is a full lesson, vocabulary cards, graphic organizers, and questions.

Getting Started & Printing Tips 

  1. Think about the logistics of housing and managing a 3D printer at your school.  Here are a few essential questions to think about:
    • Where will the printer be housed?  Consider how noisy your specific machine is while printing.  Where will spare filament be kept? 
    • Who will be allowed to use the printer, and when? 
    • Who will clean and maintain the printer?  How often will it need to be cleaned?
    • Which 3D modeling software will you use with your students? 
    • How will you provide access for teachers to the 3D technology professional development, resources, and support they will need to become confident and skilled?
  2. Tinkercad, Meshmixer and 3D Builder are just three of the many free programs designed for creating and editing 3D files. Find what works for you! 
  3. Don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer for help.  They are a fantastic resource!
  4. Invest in several backup printer nozzles, you will need to replace them eventually.
  5. If you have a large number of students, you may not be able to print every students’ individual project.  Consider having students design projects in groups.
  6. Take advantage of video tutorials. A step-by-step video can deliver the same information as written instructions in just minutes. 
  7. Get to know your printer with practice prints.  Play with the resolution!  When you print something that feels stringy instead of smooth, these problems are probably with the print setup rather that with the printer itself. Most 3D printers have three kinds of quality settings:
  • Layer resolution is talking about how thick the layers are. Smaller layers create a smoother, stronger exterior. It also uses more filament and consequently takes longer to print. (Lower numbers mean higher quality.)
  • Fill density is how much filament the inside of the 3D object is filled with.  The inside of most 3D printed objects look like a spiderweb. The higher the percentage of fill, the smaller the web, and the longer it will take to print. (Higher numbers mean higher quality.)
  • Wall thickness refers to the item’s outer wall. The larger the thickness, the stronger the wall.  (Higher numbers mean higher quality.)
  1. Start with premade items. There are so many out there, and it will be a great jumping off place.  Once you begin designing your own things with students, begin small with basic shapes and teach them holes.
  2. Just because something is too big for your printer doesn’t mean that you can’t use it. Students can use their math skills to scale the work down, or select an item with multiple parts on Thingiverse so students can take the smaller pieces and combine them.   Be aware that Thingiverse does have some content that is inappropriate for school, so use caution when you let students do their own searches.
  3. Plan around the fact that you’ll most likely be doing longer-term projects. If you have a class of 30 students working in teams of five, you’ll need at least six days of class time to give each team a day with the printer. Also remember that it’s unlikely they’ll be able to start and finish a print in one class period!
  4. Integrate with 20-Time or Genius Hour. 

Filament Tips

  1. Filament comes in two standard sizes, 1.75mm and 2.85mm, make sure you get the right one for your printer!  They are not interchangeable.
  2. If you have a printer that is designed to accept filament only from the manufacturer, just 3D print an adapter to get generic filament to fit in your carriage holder.  Look on Thingiverse for the plans!   Here are the plans for a Dremel 3d45 .5kg Spool Adapter and a Dremel 3D45 External Spool Holder that came recommended by our teacher community.
  3. Consider only ordering white, black, and translucent filament.  Kids can decorate these themselves with paint markers, sharpies, or acrylic paint.  
  4. If you do want to print in a variety of colors, it’s best to print all the items of one color before you change the filament spool.  Change your spools as infrequently as possible!
  5. Buy a variety pack of colors.  Let kids choose what color they want, but then have them make a first, second and third choice of color in case you run out of their first choice.  

Bonus! 

9 Project Ideas

  1. Try a Shark Tank type activity where your students need to invent something new or improve upon an existing item, then make a prototype on Tinkercad. You may find they can even end up presenting their work to a panel of business people from the community.
  2. Starting younger students with personalized name key chains comes highly recommended.  There are several great videos on Youtube and instructions on Tinkercad for this type of project.   Students can also make prints of their first initial or a snowflake as Christmas ornaments! 
  3. Try this Design an Inclusive Play Space lesson and project with your middle schoolers. 
  4. Use some Eunny Tutorials on YouTube. After your lesson one week you can even let the students vote on which object you want to create together next week. Then you can watch a tutorial by HL Mod Tech first and from that lead them through creating whatever they choose at a slower pace.
  5. The City X Project might just become one of your favorite units!
  6. The YouTuber Nerys has some great 3D printing tutorials. Have students create their own articulated animals using his Articulated Anything files on thingiverse, and downloading the animal .svg files off pixabay.
  7. 3D print your class bitmoji’s!  
    • Have the kids make a bitmoji from their file. First they send the file to themselves, clean it up in photoshop, then save it as a .jpg.  
    • Take the file into illustrator and live trace the image. 
    • Separate the images into a background and foreground. Save each of the images as separated .svg files and then take them into Tinkercad
    • From Tinkercad just line up the images.  Set it to the base and group the image. 
    • Export the file as a .stl and take it to your 3D printers.
  8. Make Veterans Day pins. Crazy glue the pin backing to their designs and distribute them to your Veteran parents and staff. 
  9. Have students use their base knowledge and work with SketchUp – there is a school version.  You could also have them design a room in Floorplanner for a slightly different angle of 3D and design.

Have you done 3D printing with your students? How did it go and what did you have them do?

Brittany Washburn

Brittany Washburn

Hi, I'm Brittany. I'm an educator obsessed with technology and passionate about teaching students 21st century skills. I'm so glad you came to visit my website.

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