3D Printer Club: Info for Maker Team Advisers

Special Content: Repraps for Education

This is part of a series of posts about starting and facilitating a project-based 3D printer club at a local elementary school, with the ultimate goal of replicating the program at schools everywhere. We'll be posting as many details as possible, including lesson plans and supporting materials. For more information about the entire project, including a listing of posts related to it, please visit the 3D Printer Club for Schools project page. 

I didn’t want to leave the helpful advisers out of the updates, either. Over the break I’d heard a concern about expectations and overall direction, so I wanted to provide a little more information about these things just for the advisers of each team. With all these kids, the meetings can be a little chaotic and scattered, and because we’re asking the ids to do so much, we never really end up doing exactly what we planned.

My goal for the maker team advisers was to remind them of how I see the kids on their team fitting in moving forward.

As this next quarter starts up, I wanted to take a moment and share with you a bit of my vision for the maker team. The team is a bit different in size and scope than we had originally intended, but I hope that can work to our advantage. I think it could give us an opportunity to get creative with how they contribute in the future, and even if that contribution is only tangential at times, I think each member of the team can take away some valuable lessons.

During the first quarter, the team has been focused on taking stuff apart, and I had a few goals in mind for this. First, I wanted to try to help demystify mechanical devices by showing that they’re not just magic boxes — they contain a bunch of stuff that works together to do something useful. The goal for disassembling a machine is not to see how quickly or completely it can be done, but instead to try to figure out how it works: “What are these wires for?”, “What makes this part move?”, “How does it know when to stop?”, “Why is this shaped the way it is?”, etc.

Second, I wanted the kids to see subassemblies in place, and how they relate to the function of the machine as a whole. For example, in inkjet printers there is usually a print carriage that moves back and forth along smooth rods using a motor and belt, and that’s exactly what happens in a 3Dprinter as well. One motor moves the print carriage, and another motor moves the paper through. Each of these motors is attached to a circuit board that serves as the brain, and that circuit board is fed power from a power supply that’s connected to the wall.

Finally, I wanted them to be on the lookout for useful parts. To be sure, we won’t actually find a lot of parts we can use from these machines, but we will likely be able to use some for different projects in the future — things like motors and belts that are too small for a 3D printer might be just right for a robot that draws on eggs, for example, and I’d like them to think creatively about uses like these. (As an example, one of the kids found a belt last time and then came up with the idea of making mini 3D printers when we discovered that the belt would be too small for our project.) What we should be able to find, though, is a couple of power components like cords and cables, and maybe even things like a power supply, glass, switches, belts, and motors.

This quarter things will hopefully be a bit different. Soon I believe the maker team will be a little more involved with the actual build process, and hopefully some of the other processes, too. (I’ve been trying to encourage other teams to tap maker team resources when they need help.) With the build schedule in place, one of the first things we’ll need to do is prepare some parts for assembly, and I’m strongly suggesting that the build team use maker resources for this. But because you’re probably new to this process, too, I thought I’d give you a heads-up with some specifics.

We have several 3-foot rods (both smooth and threaded) that will need to be cut to size. This will involve some thinking ahead, including how to efficiently lay out the cuts to preserve stock, how to measure and mark the parts, how to cut the rods straight, how to secure the parts that need to be cut, and how to clean up the parts after the cut. You can guide them through this, but they’ll need to lay everything out first, then thread nuts onto them, clamp the parts down, saw them into pieces with a hacksaw, deburr the ends, and then unscrew the nuts to clean up the threads.

We also have several printed plastic pieces that will also need to be prepared for assembly. Because 3D printed parts aren’t absolutely accurate, we’ll need to carefully drill out the holes to the correct sizes so that they fit the hardware they’re supposed to fit. This is also something you can let them discover: Try to fit the plastic frame vertex over the threaded rod, and when it doesn’t fit, ask, “Okay… so what can we do to make this work?”

But here’s how I hope this will work: I’d like the kids on the build team to explain what specific parts are required for the scheduled work. I’d like the makers to ask questions if necessary and then work through how they’ll accomplish the task with the supplies they have. Allow them to make little mistakes, but save them from the big ones. For example, if they decide to try to cut without clamping the work, I’d let them try (supervised, of course), but then suggest that there’s probably an easier and safer solution if they give it a little more thought.

I’m going to try to bring several tools in this Friday, and my plan is to review them and some safety guidelines at the start of the meeting. Among the tools I plan to bring are a hacksaw, clamps, a cordless drill and drill bits, files, wrenches, tape measure, and calipers. I’m also going to bring a lot of hardware and begin to introduce it.

I hope this helps a bit going forward. I’ll see you on Friday!

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