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3D Printing in the Classroom — Who Cares?


3D Printing in the Classroom — Who Cares?

We're excited to bring you this blog post by our Director of Education, David D. Thornburg, PhD.

I've chatted with lots of teachers over the years and now that 3D printers are becoming commonplace in many classrooms, a major complaint has emerged: “We got a printer for our class and after the kids made key chains, we didn't know what to do next, so we don't use it anymore."

This challenge is so commonplace that I thought I should address it. My view is that any technological tool used in education needs to be evaluated on the basis of its curricular connection. Just because something is new and flashy doesn't mean that it should be brought into classrooms. This applies to computers, tablets and other devices, including 3D printers.

In the realm of 3D printing (for example, in the STEAM fields), there are five tasks that form a sequence. These include background on the curricular topic, the design of the 3D parts for the project, the printing of the parts, their assembly into a finished artifact, and experimentation with the object to develop a deeper understanding of the topic. I show this as a loop because the cycle can repeat with embellishments for interesting projects.

Every one of these topics is important. Contrast this approach with one that involves simply downloading and printing designs stored on sites like Thingiverse. While such sites are useful for providing models of difficult-to-design parts, they pale in comparison with the learning that happens when students design projects on their own.

To illustrate the process, I'll show part of our STEAMtrax high school curriculum project on water turbines.


Hydroelectric power provides a significant percentage of the electricity used in the US. The topic of water turbines bridges physics, engineering and mathematics. It allows students to explore Newton's laws, electric power generation and other curricular topics.


After learning about the kinds of turbines used in hydroelectric dams, students are ready to design their own turbine for testing. While there are lots of design tools available (many of which are free), this project uses a free authoring environment called BlocksCAD. BlocksCAD has the advantage of being easy to learn, and for supporting the design of complex shapes.



Once the design of the various parts is completed, the finished designs need to be printed. In our case this includes the turbine wheel itself, the wheel holder, and the end caps placed on the wheel axle that also allow a small DC motor to be added as a generator.


The next step in the process is the assembly of the final system, including its connection to a voltmeter to show how much electricity is produced then the turbine wheel rotates.


Once the assembly is completed, the wheel is subjected to a stream of water and students can see how much electricity is produced by a water turbine they built themselves. This leads to some new questions. For example, our first wheel had eight blades. What would happen if we had six blades ― or ten?

Because our modeling language is parametric, changing blade designs is as easy as changing the value of one variable. This lets students print and try differenct wheel designs with ease. By using an inexpensive laser tachometer, wheel rotational speed can be measured with different water flow rates and comparisons can be made between wheels with different numbers of blades. Suddenly this activity has a strong math component that aligns nicely with existing standards.

From this point, you can go back to the Background step and launch an exploration of different kinds of turbine designs.

When viewed from this perspective, 3D printing is a powerful tool in education. Instead of presenting the curriculum in a linear lecture-driven format where it is quickly forgotten, students learn through the process of “constructionism” where the things they learn will stay with them a long time.

The approach I just described applies to the curricular materials we develop at Polar3D under the STEAMtrax name.

By all means, make a nice keychain if you want, but then please quickly move to curricular-based projects like those provided by STEAMtrax to transform the learning experience using 3D printers as the key technology to do things you simply couldn't do before.



We're Thankful for "Boys & Girls Club of America"

A 3D Printed Harry Potter themed light switch cover.

A 3D Printed Harry Potter themed light switch cover.

Last but most definitely not least, our good friend, Kristen, from the Boys and Girls Club, had an AWESOME, holiday inspired print. This Ocarina is fully functional and completely printed on a Polar 3D printer.  Enjoy her festive rendition of Deck The Halls, in the video below.

Thank you so much Kristen, for sharing this with us. It is definitely one of the most creative prints we have seen!

Leading up to Thanksgiving, Polar 3D would like to acknowledge and thank some of our outstanding teachers and friends who are making an impact in the classroom

Over the past few years, Polar 3D has been blessed to work with the great people at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Their mission is "To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens."

This relationship is empowering young students through STEAM education and after school curriculum. The Boys and Girls Club has taken a huge focus on technology and we are so grateful to be a part of it. 

The pictures shown here are from the Marge Schott-Unnewehr Club, in Covington, KY. We recently had the opportunity to lead a training seminar at the club, on how to better utilize 3D printing and STEAM in the after school programs. 

We focused on getting familiar with the Polar Cloud, setting up prints on the build plate for the best success, and also how to create their own objects on TinkerCAD.

The Marge Schott-Unnewehr Club, has been busy printing and have created some very unique and creative objects. We love this kind of creativity from both the teachers and students!


Interview With Our 100k Printer!


Interview With Our 100k Printer!

Last week, we were excited to announce that our Polar Cloud passed 100,000 prints! We found out who the lucky printer was, and after sending them a whopping 6 kilos of filament as a surprise thank you, we thought we'd get to know them a bit! So here's our interview with the 100,000th printer: Katie Donlin, a STEM Teacher at Byron Middle School, in Byron, MN. 

Katie, what do you and your students enjoy most about having the Polar 3D Printer? 

Having a 3D printer in our school has been awesome. At first, students are just excited to see it printing and curious about the process. But then, when they get to design and then watch their creations come to life, it really provides them an unforgettable learning experience. We started out with two Polar 3D Printers last year, being fortunate enough to have one funded through DonorsChoose. We decided to go with Polar 3D because of it’s affordability, customer support visibility, impressive cloud community, and unique design. The students love watching it print in class and then seeing time-lapses of the prints online. 

What are some of the coolest things you’ve printed? Any great 3D printing stories?

Our middle school students have designed some pretty impressive objects. We have printed student-designed phone cases, custom keychains, iPad stands, and incorporated in other class projects including a Science cell organelle model and Industrial Tech CO2 car printed. Many students have said that it feels almost therapeutic watching the Polar 3D printers printing. One 6th grade student feels so strongly about this that he decided to make them the center of his Genius Hour project - providing students the opportunity to watch time-lapse prints in their free time. A School 3D Print Cam. That was an unexpected learning opportunity created by having the Polar 3D printers in our classroom.

That is so great! We think it's pretty therapeutic watching the prints too. How do you integrate the printer into your classroom experience or teaching lessons?

So many students want the opportunity to use the 3D printers in class. So, this year, we decided to create a semester long elective class called 3D Design. This class is centered on designing and then printing. So far it has been a great experience for the 7th grade students in the course. The printers allow us to have a 3D Printed School Store, in which the students in class are able to design, print, and then operate the school store. This type of learning has empowered students and given them an entrepreneurial learning opportunity. The class will also spend time going through the various design challenges on the Polar 3D Cloud such as the Ornament and Home Fix It Challenges. 

Oh my gosh, we love seeing students get entrepreneurial with 3D Printing! So, why do you teach in STEM education? What inspires you to pursue STEM with your students?

Students in the 21st century have so many new challenges to face both now and in the future. One thing I like to tell my students is the statistic (according to New York Times) that 65% of the jobs they will have don’t even exist yet, and many of those will be in the STEM fields. I love teaching STEM because it allows students the opportunity to innovate, problem-solve, and think critically in a variety of ways. It’s important that students learn how to collaborate together to work through challenges. I enjoy seeing the creativity that each new class brings to various design challenges. Incorporating technology, like robotics and 3D printing only add to this level of empowerment in students. I strive to see that students feel true ownership in their work and authenticity in their projects. Another personal goal of mine is to inspire new female students to push past the stereotypes of technical fields. Having a 3D printer has helped a lot with this goal, because the students are able to print projects that excite them and fit with the other things that they are passionate about.

Wow, we couldn't agree more — collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving are the biggest things we hope students learn when using our products! Okay, last question, how does 3D Printing help your students learn STEM principles?

3D Printing allows students to work through the engineering design process in the most authentic sense possible. One of the steps of the design process is the creation phase. Students can literally take an idea they have brainstormed and then create and print the prototype. Printing also allows students to see the importance of planning and evaluating their designs. They can physically see what works, and what doesn’t - then go back and modify their designs.

Isn't Katie awesome?! We're so excited her and her students were the lucky 100,000th printer! We can't wait to see what her smart and entrepreneurial students create with all that filament! 


Talawanda Schools Choose Polar 3D


Talawanda Schools Choose Polar 3D

The Talawanda School District in Oxford, Ohio was recently awarded $3,500 from the Duke Energy Foundation for the purchase of six, Polar 3D printers for use in all five school buildings! Their commitment to pursuing STEM education throughout the district is awesome and we love knowing that Polar 3D printers will be many of these student's first experience with 3D Printing! We hope they're inspired and empowered by this great opportunity.

“Talawanda School District has committed to STEM Education in a variety of ways,” district STEM coordinator Ryan Barter said. “We believe students will learn by experiencing, not just listening. It is desired that students work collaboratively and gain those important soft skills that are vital to future success in any career path.”
He said the training is geared toward having students improve their skills in the areas of creativity, diligence, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and perseverance."

Talawanda High School is also partnering with Miami University in a social way as well...

"The high school has partnered with Miami University Hamilton in Project Civility, which encourages students to treat each other well. One way to do this is to reward acts of kindness by giving a student a specially-designed coin recognizing that act. Those coins are currently provided as part of the partnership, but that may change thanks to the new 3-D printers.
“We will make our own coins,” Holli Morrish, the district’s director of communication and public relations, said, adding high school students are planning the project. “The Youth Initiative Team has taken leadership. Students will have an art contest to design our coins. The focus on STEM is very modern and we can use it for Project Civility and tie it to district initiatives.”

Plus, the district is building two MakerSpaces for the students as well!

“The school district will supply a dedicated classroom space at the middle school and the high school for these MakerSpaces,” Barter said. “We will also provide computers with appropriate software, like Tinkercad or AutoCAD, and many supplies for students and teachers to be creative.”

It's so exciting to see a school district going in so wholeheartedly into STEM education and 3D Printing at all levels of education! To read more, check out the full article here. Congratulations Talawanda, we can't wait to see what you create!