Transferring to the Makerbot
The next step was to export from Sketchup into a file format that the 3D printer software would recognize. As we were using a Makerbot as our 3D printer, I was able to download the software for the printer for free. I exported from Sketcup, imported into the Makerbot software and was ready to print. I made sure to change the setting so that supports were added, because the printer can not print in mid-air. Connected the laptop to the printer, could have even sent it wirelessly but the wireless was down that day, and the print job started.
If you have never watched something get printed on a 3D printer, you are missing out as it is really cool. The printer has to warm up first and heat up the material before it can print. It lays out a test line to make sure the filament head is not clogged before starting to print the base portions where the product will start. (The first time the filament nozzle was plugged so we had to start over after cleaning it out, these things can be finicky but so can all printers.)
The printing job was going to take an estimated 3 hours to print and was only over that estimate by about 30 minutes. Luckily I had a lot of work to do so I could stay productive while I waited for the object to be done. It was interesting to note the pattern the printer was using to print the object, as I had designed a solid object but to save materials there was a honeycomb pattern instead of just a solid piece being used. This may be something I need to look into to make sure my object was indeed a 100% solid object.
Cleaning Up the Final Product
Once the object is done being printed, you have to carefully remove it from the printing surface. I actually used my badge to wedge it up to remove it but many people suggested a flat spatula. The supports had to be removed in order to see the final product, which can be done very carefully or quickly if you are impatient. Unfortunately as I was removing some of the supports, one part of the piece bent too much and I heard a crack. I placed some tape over it and it still worked, but this showed that one section of it may not be strong enough and will need a redesign.
This is the part that I think is something we would emphasize with students, how our initial idea may have sounded good but our finished product may not meet the needs we have. My device is not as strong as I had hoped along one face and it is not big enough to accommodate the mirrors that I have. I can go out and get different sized mirrors but I also need a wider setup to make sure the whole field of view is being reflected.
This is not a failure, but another step in the learning process. I have the mindset that I can improve on it and will use what I have learned in order to keep moving forward. We need to make sure that we help our students understand this mindset and ensure that they have it. Too many things we do in schools lead to a fixed mindset (grading, homework, testing) that we need to really make sure we are doing the types of learning activities that help our students think about growth and how they can use failure as a stepping stone to learning.
I now better understand the potential that we can have with makerspaces in schools but it has nothing to do with the devices themselves, it is about the process and the learning that goes into it. Students will be able to use what they have learned in so many different areas in order to solve a problem and work through a process. They can write, do math, research, present to a group, redesign, draw,….. The only limitations will be the ones that we, the teachers, put on the students and on the process itself.