Monday, January 28, 2019

3D Modeling for Teens - Featuring TinkerCad

3D printing is super cool.


It can also be an expensive hobby, and is still new enough technologically that you just don't see 3D printers very often. Where I live, the library is the one place in town where you can actually see one working live and in person, and while ours are not available for public use, they are available to use for programming, so I decided to introduce my teens to ours by getting them involved in designing their own items to print.

The only requirement to participate in the program was that the teens had to have an e-mail address (which most do for school, though some used a parent's e-mail) so that they could set up their own account on TinkerCad.

TinkerCad homepage as of January of 2019

For those who are not familiar, TinkerCad is a free, online Computer Aided Drafting program that allows anyone to create STL and OBJ files of three dimensional objects. These files can then be translated or "sliced" for use in 3D printers, allowing anyone to create their own designs of anything they want, really. The homepage looks like this:

Once you have created an account, the website has convenient and easy lessons that help you learn how the system works. For our program I went over a couple of these very briefly with the teens, but since most of them were accustomed to programs like Word and MS Publisher, we found it easier to just dive right in and learn through trial by error. TinkerCad has a fairly simple drag and drop interface, so the biggest hurdle faced by most of the teens was trying to think three-dimensionaly and to think about how their items would look in the real word once they were printed.

Teens working on their TinkerCad projects.
For our first session, we had 9 teens in attendance, and since the class only ran for an hour or so, only 4 of them were able to completely finish a project to their satisfaction. I downloaded these four projects to a USB and am currently in the process of printing them out for the teens to pick up at their leisure. I also created a Thingiverse profile for our teen department where we uploaded the projects under Creative Commons licensing so that others can then download and print them as well. The teens got a kick out of thinking other people could print their creations. 

The 4 finished creations we uploaded onto Thingiverse. The one on the bottom left had a mystery "floater" shape no one noticed before it was rendered. 

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