Students Explore Emerging Technologies in Make It: 3D Design

Sixth Grade students have a unique opportunity this year in their new Make It: 3D Design class. Taught by David Wells, Director of Maker Programming at the New York Hall of Science, and Katie Rocker, Upper Division Director, students are exploring the field of design and the emerging field of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. 

While today’s commercially available 3D printers are typically used to make toys, the same techniques are used in almost all modern design workshops, from engineering to fashion design, to rapidly prototype objects, or to manufacture lower density parts used in everything from rocket engines to medical prostheses. As these techniques are refined, more products produced using these methods are available on the market. 

"It is important for students to explore emerging technologies, learn design skills, and explore ways to apply the design thinking process to their daily lives,” said Ms. Rocker. “Understanding the dialogue between high- and low-tech materials and tools, and then creatively using them to achieve desired results, are integral steps to building a mindset of life-long learning." 

In their first class, students hand-bound their own design notebooks, used throughout the rest of the class to record their thoughts and ideas, as well as to sketch designs for their projects. Next, students began to explore the 3D design process, not on computers, but with clay by creating coil pottery.What do ancient pottery methods have to do with some of the most advanced manufacturing robots available today? Both use a process of building up material in layers to create shapes not possible by other methods. Coil pottery uses a long snake of clay to build up the sides of the vessel, layering the clay on top of itself. 3D printing uses almost exactly the same technique, except instead of clay, it uses a long line of thermoplastic filament, melted and cooled to form the object out of hundreds of layers of material. 

After gaining an understanding of how their designs would be printed, students began exploring the software they would use to create their designs. Using simple shapes on a flat plane, their first task was to design a nametag with their name on it. 

As the end of the year approaches, students are now brainstorming their final designs, which they will select one of to render on the computer and print using the school’s two 3D printers. By the end of the year, students will have not only an object that they designed themselves, but a deeper understanding of design thinking and the process by which objects are created and produced.