3D Printing at Lower School

KX takes on the block design challenge.

By Denise Coffin, Kindergarten Teacher

We wanted our students to begin thinking about the world as an intentionally designed environment. We used building blocks and ThinkBooks as a way for us to explore these ideas and concepts. This project gave our students a chance to think visibly and articulate their own design ideas. They experienced the design process from idea to construction to interaction with a set of blocks printed on a 3D printer.

To prepare for the project, we asked the students to think about the following queries:

How are blocks made or designed? What are important ideas to consider when you design a block for building and play? Why is design an important idea?

When we began the project, Jenni Voorhees, Director of Lower School Academic Technology, brought the 3D printer to the classroom. She displayed the printer software on the white board and took the students through the printing process step by step. We began by looking at an existing block design by Naef, a Bauhaus architect. We printed an entire set of Naef’s blocks and observed how the printer created them and what they looked like in their interior.

The students spent time in small groups looking closely at a variety of blocks in the classroom. We noticed their features and shared thoughts and observations.

Student observations included:

They have shapes.
They are all different sizes.
All the sides of one block are not the same shape.
They were designed.
They stack on top of each other.
Some are round and can be on the top.

The students spent some time drawing their ideas in their ThinkBooks. Each student was challenged to design three blocks.

As a class we also spent time thinking about how blocks fit together and what is important in order for blocks to stack. The students designed new block ideas in their ThinkBooks using these new and expanded ideas.

The new thinking included:

To stack, blocks need flat sides.
Blocks that have grooves can fit together.
Blocks with certain shapes can link together.

Jenni used one of our designs and printed out a demo using the 3D printer. The block design with the flat top and zig zag bottom was the design that was tested first.

At this stage of the process, we focused on refining the design. The goal was to print a set of our own blocks! We spent some time looking at our two prototypes and sharing our thinking about what were the successful parts of our design and what we would change.

Thinking about how blocks might fit together and what might make the blocks more interesting, we began to make suggestions for the final version.

The kindergarten teachers drew the ideas generated by the students in two “final” drafts on the white board. It was a fun morning of evaluating, ideating, and re-designing! Jenni loaded the design to the computer in Tinkercad, and the students offered ideas about scale, rotation, and orientation. At last, we were ready to print our own class-invented block!

The students really enjoyed designing and creating the blocks. Some of them shared their thoughts:

The blocks seem pretty cool. . . .It was very cool to print them in our classroom. . . . We loved to print some that were see-through and some that were flat. . . . It’s interesting to see what happens when the printer slices the blocks [when it got jammed or interrupted). . . . Our favorite thing is printing our own colorful blocks. . . . We want to keep printing blocks. . . . We like being stewards of the printer. . . . We liked making a plan for our blocks. . . . It reminds us of making a plan and building a gingerbread house.

So what’s next? The students will play with our new set of blocks and explore our design solution queries: Is this a set of blocks? What makes this a set of blocks? Is there still room for improvement? We are still asking questions and learning.

Explore Our Classrooms

Explore Technology in our Classrooms