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!



Makerspaces and Me


I’m currently working on a grant proposal, specifically related to the Technology and Engineering parts of STEM. I am endeavouring to take the idea of a makerspace to the next level; I want to explore how it could be setup and utilised to enrich and support secondary learning. One of my issues with maker spaces, is they always seem so primary focused; they seem to be more about the primary educational mentality and focus. It might just be perspective bias on my part, but I always get the impression whenever I read about them or see them, they are intended for younger students. I have always found that makerspaces are really about the “explore” of the tools and materials that are present. Don’t get the wrong impression at this point, I in fact love makerspaces; I think they are fantastic and want them to become more widespread. What I want to do thought, is move makerspaces to a level that correlates and engages secondary students; especially those in Years 8, 9 and 10.

I really like Samantha Roslund’s definition from her book “Makerspaces”. It reads

“Makerspaces is a general term for a place where people get together to make things. Makerspaces might focus on electronics, robotics, woodworking, sewing laser cutting, programming or some combination of these skills.”

Her words provide a great definition, but at the same time are not specific enough for my purpose. My goal is to support STEM specifically the Technology and Engineering parts. I know it is splitting hairs, but I have always defined a maker space in the following manner myself;

A makerspace is a location set aside and resourced to allow students to work on projects, build, and most of expand their understanding; it is a place where students can create, invent, tinker, and discover using a variety of tools and materials. It is a place where students can be creative and build connections across the curriculum in ways that are meaningful to them.

My definition is even less specific then Samantha’s, as it focuses more on the why of the makerspace, then what it is being done with or in it. I think the only solution is to combine the two!

So here is my attempt at a unified definition;

A Makerspace is a place where people can come together and make things. It is a place that focuses on allowing people to work on projects, build, and most of expand their understanding; it is a place where people can create, invent, tinker, and discover using a variety of tools and materials. It combines skills across fields; it can involve robotics, electronics, craft, sewing, laser cutting, 3D printing, wood cutting and computers. It is not limited to a single filed, but is a place to be creative and make whatever you can come up with.

I think writing this today has helped take my thinking in the right direction. I feel that the scope may still be too large, but some of the “why” we should be doing this is now there. I think I’m going to leave this one here for now.