The Goodfellow Centre at Saint Kentigern College was a long time in the planning. It started life as two separate buildings with a breezeway between and finished as a single building incorporating flexible spaces to allow for collaborative and creative work. The architectural plans included a central space that was designated, right from the beginning, as a makerspace. It was designed to showcase the best of new digital technologies, allow staff oversight of students in the area, create a ‘buzz’ and present creative opportunities for all-comers.
The Centre opened in 2016, and the first of the technologies was installed: two Makerbot 3D printers, the Replicator 2 and the Replicator Mini. These printers were made available through an established relationship with Ricoh, who already supply photocopying services.
When we first received them, we had no idea how they worked. They came with some stick-on ‘build plate tapes’, some PLA filament, an SD card, and some cables. After some training in the basics by Ricoh, and some online tutorials, we started to become familiar with the equipment and the process. Working by trial and error, we quickly discovered several things:
- Lynda.com provides one of the most comprehensive tutorials on the Replicators.
- The stick-on ‘build plate tapes’ were relatively expensive given how often they needed to be replaced. Students are not fussy about keeping the tape in good condition for the next user. We experimented initially with different types of tape and finally found that the blue masking tape used by painters, applied in strips, was the most effective at ensuring the model stayed on the build plate. It is also relatively cheap.
- We needed to purchase a tool to remove the finished model from the build plate. For health and safety reasons this had to be plastic, but heavy duty. We purchased a range of plastic painting ‘scrapers’ that have only just been replaced.
- The SD card cannot be larger than 2GB. We also needed to purchase a USB converter to transfer files from student laptops to the SD card.
- In our experience, Makerbot filament is a superior product to many of the other less expensive brands that we tried. Some snapped while they were printing or produced less satisfactory models. Makerbot also has a wide range of filament colours.
Interest and excitement
Once we had a reasonable understanding of the printers’ hardware, and the accessories we needed to operate them effectively, we promoted them to the school community. This generated a great deal of interest and excitement, but there was a corresponding lack of confidence and/or skill in using the equipment. We had several students who were already experienced in 3D printing, so we established some short sign-up courses for them, run by other students, which covered the basics. These were three sessions long and utilised Tinkercad software to create a small item to print. In retrospect, this was a demanding exercise for the student leaders, as the skillset in each group (and there were only five) was very diverse. However, the student tutors were given a valuable insight into how to manage group work, and the requisite organisational and leadership skills.
Over the intervening period, we have developed much more staff expertise, and have largely proceeded with ad hoc training for students. We have sometimes paid a price for this, but thankfully the Makerbots have been relatively forgiving as inexperienced users try their hand at printing for the first time.
As students and staff became more skilled, we needed a booking system to manage the printer sessions. We created a very simple Google form that students could not edit but were able to view online. They could then email staff in the Centre and we could make appropriate bookings. We have five bookable sessions per day, per printer: before school; interval; lunchtime; periods 5 and 6; and after school. Most bookings were initially for a block or two, but as students became more experienced, they printed more complex models, requiring more time.
One of the restrictions of 3D printing is the time factor: most prints take at least an hour, usually more when false-starts or filament changes are factored in. Currently, most of our bookings are block booking of three sessions or more. We have had to limit students to a combined total of five ‘sessions’ per week, to keep usage equitable.
Students generally want to print something fun that reflects
their interests. We have allowed them to print whatever they want, with
the exception of objectional items or any weapons. Most of their models are downloaded from sites such as Thingiverse (thingiverse.com), but there is an increasing number of students using Tinkercad (tinkercad.com) or other software to create their own designs, modify existing projects or develop real-life printed solutions. These include drone parts, clock mechanisms, prototypes for furniture/houses, phone holders and smaller items for design solutions.
We have promoted 3D printing options to staff as a tool for:
- prototyping designs in furniture/design technology;
- creating 3D models of historical artefacts/buildings (we have a fabulous Colosseum model, and a Globe Theatre used by a staff member);
- technology products, like food moulds/containers;
- replacing parts or designing parts for equipment failures and breakages; and
- teaching students how 3D printers work, as an introduction to a mainstream technology.
Failing and learning
Two philosophies have really come into focus for us on our 3D printing journey. The first is the essential opportunity to create something that is not assessed in any way; this is a space where there is no critical judgment about what is made and there are no expectations beyond a finished model. This is very liberating for students. The second is a philosophy of failing and learning. The 3D printing process is not always successful. There are several reasons why a model might fail and students are encouraged to work through any problems in the design and printing processes. This failure model teaches students (and staff) problem-solving skills and how to fail and learn as the key to successful life-long learning. It also develops the kind of resilience needed to counter everyday setbacks or frustrations.
In addition, 3D printing is an opportunity for future-focused learning, and for giving students confidence in what will become a main-stream technology.
Looking ahead, we’re currently planning to introduce a ‘Skills Passport’. This will be partially online and partially small group based, to cover health and safety and the various skills needed to use the equipment well. The passport will encourage students to move from downloading files from other sites, to designing and printing their own models. It also captures skills and attributes we expect to see of our learners as they make design decisions and push the boundaries of what is possible with the technology we have available.
The makerspace in the Goodfellow Centre has provided the opportunity to grow contemporary skills in a low-risk environment. We see students collaborating both intentionally and spontaneously as they explore designs, resolve technical issues, and prototype ideas. We also see learners critically evaluating their process, especially when a print ends up as a giant spool of filament spaghetti. Problem solving, conflict resolution and applying mathematical and scientific principles are other learning outcomes that we see daily.
Such has been the success, we are branching out and exploring other ‘maker’ possibilities. Next on the list – sewing machines and laser cutters!
Lesley Verryt is an Information Specialist at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland.
This article was part of ‘Creating a space for making’, a feature on Makerspaces in Issue 96, September 2019 of INTERFACE.