After Emlen Elementary received their new computer lab at the beginning of the 2015 school year, PCF jumped on the opportunity to teach technology classes there. About a dozen 5th graders were selected by their teachers and allowed to attend the weekly 2.5 hr class for the remainder of the school year.

A donor had given PCF an old, first generation but durable 3D printer which we thought would be the perfect gimmick to get kids interested in using computers. It was PCF’s foré into teaching classes and after a full year, we learned a lot, the kids learned a lot, and we have used the experience to roll out the popular classes to other selected schools.

The thing that makes the 3D printing unique is the tangible novelty of holding something you created on the computer. A keychain tag for mother’s day, a chess piece, minecraft trinket, bracelet, whistle, whatever.

And what excited us at PCF in teaching these classes is knowing that most of the skills the students picked up apply to almost any other graphics application: left vs right-clicking the mouse, using modifier keys while using the mouse, saving your work, etc.

We use an online website (tinkercad) to do the modeling. We created individual accounts for the students so that they could save their work and ‘tinker’ with their creations at any time. At first, we ran through the tutorials together. Once the students got the concept, they were instructed to choose a chess piece to replicate (we found pictures online of geometric sets that were doable).

Over the course of the week, the PCF instructor would choose the objects that were ready for printing and print them out (3D printing is too slow to do in class). The kids were extremely excited to see their creations and take them home.

As an aside, more than half of our group (12 most talented 5th graders) did not have a desktop computer at home… Of course we provided them with computers but it reinforced what we already knew: most of these kids only exposure to computers is at school. And Emlen was lucky to receive a private donation for their new 33-unit computer lab; most other schools are not as lucky…

Some pictures throughout the year: