Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Jump To 3D Has Begun

Mushrooms - Bob Krause

Forget your assumptions about the upper limits of S.T.E.M. curriculum. The jump to 3D has begun. Scratch and Lego Mindstorms are still relevant, but Tinkercad modeling software, Makerbot printers and Epilog laser cutters are now very much in the picture.

Though the hardware and software tools are coming together, the evolution of classroom 3D is at a stage similar to the introduction of the Macintosh during the PC era, and every bit as exciting. But just as DOS was limited and line-oriented, Google’s free SketchUp software is complicated, cluttered, clunky and in many ways kludgy. Today Autodesk's  Tinkercad provides the best of breed experience for K-12 students, educators and even some professionals. – That is if Autodesk doesn’t mess it up with more bug-riddled updates, mid-day downtime and changes that clutter up the interface.

Printer technologies are evolving rapidly. Yet print times are clocked in hours, hardware breakdowns are common, and only about half of all print jobs are ultimately successful. Still, schools are creating space for printers, scanners and laser cutters and experimenting with curriculum ideas.

Smartphones, tablets, social media and the internet generally has affected the relationships that kids have with technology. To them technology is fashion, it’s entertainment, it’s social, it’s ubiquitous, and its innovation cycle time is shorter than the half-life of an Instagram. More importantly, it’s been all of these things for as long as these kids can remember. Technology, innovation, creativity and expression are fundamental in their world. Perhaps this is why kids immediately grasp the notion of 3D printing when they first see a printer in action while adults are as wide-eyed as my grandparents might have been when first they first experienced black-and-white television. Even if a kid today never imagined that they could design a 3D object, print it and be holding it in their hands within hours, the reality of actually doing so is a more natural experience in comparison.

What are students doing in your 3D classrooms? What tools, hardware and services are you using? Where are you going next?

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