Exploring 3D Printing for Schools

So over the break, I did some playing and learning about 3D printers. There are two aspects to them really – the software you use and the printer hardware itself. This is a summary of my notes, thoughts and current understanding of the things.

Software is actually easy. There are 2 parts to the software; Design Software and Control Software. There is basically 3 parts to 3D printing something;

  1. Design it
  2. Slice it – this is the process of taking your 3D object and cutting it into the layers that will be printed. Some software to control the printer will do this, sometimes it is done in the design software. Almost all printers use the same file type for output to actually print from. It’s called G-code. Simply put you have software, that renders whatever you want into this code, which is then used by the printer. Almost ever printer will read gcode.
  3. Control your printer


Design Software

This is what you draw/model in.

Great place to start is TinkerCAD. – free and online


after that, there are lots and lots of options.

  • Blender – free
  • Fusion 360 (autodesk) – free for schools * one I am learning at the moment.
  • Sketchup
  • Archicad (free for teachers. not sure for students)
  • OpenSCAD
  • Sculptris
  • netFabb


Control Software

This is the software that configures the settings of your printer. Most printers are configure in the file you save – they are not directly controlled live by the computer, unless you want to set it up that way.

Cura – this is the most popular control software out there, from what I understand. Open source and free.


Pronterface – another very popular one.




There are lots of options out there, but the important thing I have learnt, is that most printers are created equal, at least below the $1000 mark. It seems to be all about the follwing things;

  1. resolution
  2. heating bed
  3. number and type of extruders
  4. Bed size

There are lots of options and lots of brands. From what I gather, almost everything is the same, when it comes down to the basic parts.

At this stage, I’m not going to get into specific discussion about specific brands; I want to be general at the moment.

In schools, we have 4 things to primarily consider with 3D printer Hardware;

  • Printer Cost
  • Printing Material Cost (filament)
  • Ease of Repair
  • Print Time

Costs – let face it, we are schools. We have limited funds and want those funds to be spent wisely. A wiz bang printer that will print metal or use a liquid resin medium, would be very cool, but in all honesty, students would most likely never end up using it for anything.

You want to be able to use generic generic parts. You want to be able to repair it yourself and do it quickly; the thing will break. But a few weeks at a repair shop (even under warranty) will destroy a unit of work that is using it.

You want to be able to use generic filament. Some models use special spools and special filament. I recommend looking for one that uses 1.75mm filament, as it is the easiest to buy.

You only need to be print in basic materials – ABS, PLA, PVA. Everything else is a bonus, and quite possibly will never be used, at least by students, as the cost can be prohibative.

See http://3dprintingfromscratch.com/common/3d-printer-filament-types-overview/  for a good guide to the different filament types. There are lots more than listed, but it is a great start to them.

You also want to ensure that your printer will support (physically) the filament roll size you buy; as a 1KG roll will not work on a printer that only supports 500g.

Print Time – this is basically about how long things take to print. A general rule, is that it will potentially take a few hours. The videos you see of things printing, are almost always sped up. 3D printing takes time. There are two ways to speed up printing – lower the print resolution or use multiple extruders.

One advantage of multiple extruders, if they are independent of each other, is that you can print multiple projects at the same time on some models.

* good place to note, read the specs carefully – there are printers that have multiple extruders (dual extruders) and printers that print with multiple materials (sometimes called dual material) printers. They are not the same thing!



Introducing Programming in Year 7

Here in Victoria, Australia, we have a new curriculum for the 2017 school year. Lots of fun stuff in it, but for me, the most significant portion was the separation of Information Technology from its “Design and Technology Family” (Food, Metal, Wood, Plastics, Textiles, Robotics and Electronics) into its own field; Digital Technologies. This separation was accompanied by new learning objectives; specifically IT went from being general computer use, to specifically and explicitly begin about coding and programming with a bit a collaborative project management and networking thrown in.  It is completely different than its old iteration, but I like it. Take a look at it here.

The result of this, is that I have been doing a lot of thinking about the best way to introduce a class to computer programming. It is going to take years for this curriculum to be fully implemented; current students will not have the background skills that the curriculum assumes for years; they just have not been taught it. The reality is that it will probably take years to see this curriculum fully realized, skills will need to build upon skills that haven’t been taught yet.

Some Thoughts on STEM in Aus

I was reading this post by EdTech and the first line really jumped out at me.

“Many high-demand occupations require a solid grounding in science, technology, engineering and math.”  EdTech

Despite this article being about America, I believe that their statement applies to education here in Australia. We are living in a technological society, and our education system is struggling to catch up with it. After years of funding cuts, we have become very disconnected from “Industry Standards”. Education has been about literacy, numeracy, and developing thinking skils for the last half century or so (give or take).

We really wanted people to be able to read and think, giving them the skills to be productive members of society and chase their dreams. This is as true today as it ever was. It is a fundamental purpose of education and that should never change. BUT society has changed. We need new additional skills and ways of thinking. Technology has experience exponential grow in the last 30 years and the way we interact with information has changed. We are quickly moving away from an industrial society, transitioning into a knowledge based economy, where what we know how to do and how we know how we think are becoming more important than our physical capabilities. This social /economic shift is already happening, and our education system is trying to adapt and grow with it, providing students with new skills and knowledge to empower them in the future.

STEM is the hot topic in education at the moment, but we are playing catch up to the needs of industry. We need students to understand the concepts and thinking skills the STEM disciplines need. In all honesty though it, might be too late for many of them; some students don’t have enough time left in their secondary education for this shift to have more than a small impact on their skills. They are not a lost cause or anything like that, but they might not have the same opportunities that will be presented to the secondary school generation that follows them.

I love how STEM, and with it Computer Technology, has become a driving idea of education. There is lots of talk, but from what I have seen and heard, very little action. The government has been talking big about STEM; promising to allocate millions to education. So far this money has not eventuated, with vast sums going to “development initiatives” which seem to exclude actual schools. I hope they will deliver, but odds are it will be too little too late and complicated by the usual bureaucracy which will waste the majority of funds.

On a plus, the action around STEM seems to be happening at the school and teacher level; teachers are doing what they; making use of what limited resources they have to shoot for the best learning outcomes they can conceive. It is what we do (imagine that I have inserted a winky smiley face here). I love the energy that the push of STEM has caused; the recognition that science, technology, engineering and math are key areas for the future, has breathed energy into the subjects. If the chips fall right, the funding materializes, there is a potential of a paradigm shift in education; one that will align our educational goals with what is needed in our technological society.