3D design and printing at the elementary level

A few weeks ago I attend an EdCamp where the subject of 3D printing at the elementary level was discussed.

I’ve spent the last few years getting my feet wet in this area and here is what I had to share:

  1. First, students need to be introduced to the concept of 3D. I’ve written about this before and shared some slides and activities to get them thinking in 3D.
  2. Tinkercad is your go-to tool for 3D design. The Tinkercad tutorials are a great place for students to start. I’ve also had many classes of third graders build word blocks as their first project in Tinkercad. In addition, we’ve done the City X Project and created charms about fairy tales in Charmr.
  3. Third grade seems to be the best place to start with 3D design. I’m not saying it cannot be done earlier but I’ve had the most luck with 3rd grade and above.
  4. Don’t overlook the value of introducing the technology to students. Not every student needs to create a 3D model to learn about 3D printing. 3D printers make excellent writing prompts. This is something I’ve used with students starting as early as 2nd grade. Below is a video I made that explores this idea farther. (Also, here are the slides I use with students.)

Kids from the 1980s answer “What is a computer?”

Watch this clip from Sesame Street where young students from 1980s describe a computer and what can be done with one.

I love their answers:

a computer is something you write on

[with a computer you can] make designs

you can make pictures with it and it helps you read

it’s not human

[a computer doesn’t have] feelings

It can think but you have to tell it what to do, we are [doing the thinking]

By now, the kids in the video are about forty years old. They are my age. We grew up working with a computer. The focus was on what we could do with a computer. What could we write, design or create with a computer.

I wonder if today’s students have the same focus? Are we shifting from a ‘what we can do with a computer’ toward ‘what can a computer do for us’ mindset?

Powerful weapons of speech- think about ethics and design first

Last week we interviewed Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. We talked a lot about how robots will affect the future. However, there was a segment of the interview that really touched on the role of the teacher and technology in the classroom.

Nourbakhsh explains the new challenges teachers face when students are working with technology in the classroom:

…educators not only need to give students the power to invent, because they need to be creators, but they need to teach them what it means to think about the process of invention, to think about the ethics of society and that’s not a lesson that we’ve ever been busy teaching people in say middle school or high school before.

When asked about teachers who feel they don’t know enough about technology, he explains:

…teachers are decades older than their students, or at least a decade older,  they know about society, they know about ethics, they know about rhetoric. And we can create resources that make it ever easier for them to teach with that. But basically we’re giving people much more powerful weapons of speech. And if we do that, we have to also teach them how to use that speech. If we decouple those in the wrong way, it’s a disaster. Then we have this zoo and our quality of life goes to heck.

You can find the entire show at LabOutLoud.com, but I clipped out the segment that speaks to technology integration and share it below.

[download clip]

P.S. In this clip, co-host Brian Bartel coins the phrase “edtech smog” to describe the instances where technology pollutes our mission as educators. I’m putting Voki and Animoto at the top of my list as #EdtechSmog.

Not all screen time is equal, or educational

When children and adolescents have unlimited and unsupervised access to media, evidence has shown that this exposure can lead to several health effects such as academic difficulties, obesity, substance abuse, and aggression. Yet, we live in a media-rich world where devices like tablets and smartphones can also provide many benefits. To acknowledge this need for balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for children and adolescents with new policy statements on screen time.

tablet userTo start the screen time conversation with parents, the AAP recommends that pediatricians begin asking these two questions at every well-child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? Is there a TV set or an Internet connected device in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?

The AAP recommends that parents limit entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. They suggest that families create a media plan for their homes and keep televisions and other Internet connected devices out of a child’s bedroom.

Schools and teachers should be considering these guidelines too. How can parents make a media plan for their family without knowing what is being consumed at school? We must be careful not to contribute to a child’s entertainment screen time diet.

Many games and apps are labeled “educational” but have no measured effectiveness to support the claim. Some are simply just interactive toys. Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of policy provided by the AAP in 2011, questions the link between an interactive game and the learning it promises to provide. “There’s nothing wrong with a toy being fun, engaging a child for an amount of time. But to promote it as being educational we really need to do research to find out,” explains Brown.

Based on the new AAP guidelines and recommendations, there are many things for teachers to consider. Online games and touch-screen apps can be incredibly engaging for students. However, we must select tools that can demonstrate a targeted approach to student learning. Look for tools that have research to support their educational benefits and be critical of those that will only contribute to a child’s daily dose of entertainment screen time.

What most schools don’t teach

Another group is continuing the coding to learn theme. The non-profit foundation Code.org is hoping to increase computer programming education across the world. They’ve created a video with an impressive cast (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh…) but my favorite quote comes from Gabe Newell.

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You know, you’re going look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else.

Check out Code.org to get started immediately.

Coding to Learn with Scratch

Scratch is the perfect tool to help kids (ages 8 and up) learn how to write programs or code. But in a recent Ted Talk, Mitch Resnick expresses another good point- the importance of coding to learn.

Resnick explains:

As kids are creating projects like this, they’re learning to code, but even more importantly, they’re coding to learn. Because as they learn to code, it enables them to learn many other things, opens up many new opportunities for learning. Again, it’s useful to make an analogy to reading and writing. When you learn to read and write, it opens up opportunities for you to learn so many other things. When you learn to read, you can then read to learn. And it’s the same thing with coding. If you learn to code, you can code to learn. Now some of the things you can learn are sort of obvious. You learn more about how computers work. But that’s just where it starts. When you learn to code, it opens up for you to learn many other things.

I highly recommend watching Resnick’s talk.

He demonstrates how kid-friendly programing tools like Scratch are not just for teaching computers, math, science, or engineering. Coding to learn can apply to almost any subject.

For example, consider teaching kids storytelling with the book Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!
Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Ruth Suehle at GeekMom writes:

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! helps your budding developer learn to use Scratch with a comic book story. Each section begins with a continuing piece of a story that ends by giving the reader a problem to solve with Scratch.

I got this book for my own kids and they were off in minutes. I think Super Scratch Programming Adventure! would be the perfect textbook to get your students off coding to learn.

Give your quiet students a voice too

In her new book, titled Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how we overlook the value of introverts. She elaborates on NPR:

Introverts are much less often groomed for leadership positions, even though there’s really fascinating research out recently from Adam Grant at [The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania] finding that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes when their employees are more proactive. They’re more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extroverted leader might, almost unwittingly, be more dominant and be putting their own stamp on things, and so those good ideas never come to the fore.

Here is another reason to get your students writing online.

Are we saying goodbye to the comeback kid?

I was watching my kids play Angry Birds the other day when I noticed how quickly they went for the restart button.

Restart Level
Restart Level

When they didn’t get the first bird to land just the right way they bailed out of the level and started over.

I wonder. Are today’s kids less likely to make a comeback?

I’m all for trial and error and learning from your mistakes. Yet, I wonder if a penalty-free restart sends the right message. This has got me thinking about my students who ask if they can retake a quiz. Should I let them restart their assessments? Right now, assessment retakes become a logistical nightmare if you let everyone have do-overs but this will change as more and more assessments go digital?

Let’s assume that we have an unlimited supply of assessments. These are the questions I have:

  • When, if ever, should we allow students to restart an assessment?
  • If they restart, should the restart be penalty-free?
  • Should there be a limit to the number of restarts a student can take?

No child left without coding skills

In this article, Andy Young writes:

Programming is the act of giving computers instructions to perform. This is true whether the output is your word processor, central heating or aircraft control system. If you can’t code, you are forced to rely on those that can to ensure that you can benefit from the greatest tool at your disposal.

I can’t agree more. Every kids should learn to code. Even if it’s just a little bit. Programming skills are empowering and they teach kids the importance of building models.

The easiest way to get started is to teach your students how to build a simple web  page using HTML. It’s not really programming but it will get kids thinking about code.

Learn HTML


To dive into programming, check out these tools to get kids started. My personal favorite is Scratch. It is free, easy to use, and designed so even  young kids can understand programming without actually having to write out complex code. Below is an overview.

Resembling Scratch, App Inventor is another easy to use programming tool for building apps on Android devices.

App Inventor

App Inventor was announced by Google but has recently been handed to MIT to manage. Watch for the “MIT App Inventor” this spring.

Finally, maybe for the more experience coders, give VPython a look. It allows students to create 3D interactive models. Compared to Scratch, it looks a little intimidating. However, there are many sample programs and tutorials available to help you get started.

Teens sharing password. This can’t end well.

In more password related news, the New York Times reports:

In a 2011 telephone survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 30 percent of teenagers who were regularly online had shared a password with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Sure it’s a symbol of trust, but we don’t need much of an imagination to see how this can go horribly wrong.

The password sharing results were revealed as part of a larger survey title Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites.

This is what happens when we have a generation growing up without Seinfeld. George taught us to never share our passwords.

Kramer also demonstrated that we should never make passwords about ourselves since they can be guessed easily.