3D Printer Club: How to Get Started in Your School

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. 

We’ve learned a lot while implementing our 3D Printer Club project plan at a local elementary school, and in the process, we’ve come up with a number of guidelines and ideas to help you get started doing the same thing in your own school. We’ll use this page as a landing page for resources and information on how to get started. As we add new content, we’ll link to it from here, so please check back from time to time for new articles.

Who Is This For?

Parents, teachers, students, makers, administrators, and more—techie or not. We’ve found that a number of different types of people would like to get started with a project like this, and each one has a slightly different perspective and purpose. While it’s not easy to write a single article for multiple audiences, we’ll try to address these different perspectives throughout. At the end of the day, though, all you really need is time, dedication, and some help from time to time.

What Are We Starting?

First of all, we recommend a project-based approach in a weekly after-school club format—the journey is a big part of the destination here, and an after school club should allow you to pull interested students from a number of grade levels, get a bit more help from parents, and potentially even pull in resources from other schools. The weekly format allows enough time between meetings for individual teams to work independently.

With the help of teachers, parent volunteers, and possibly a couple of older students, the members of the 3D Printer Club will be responsible for researching, documenting, sourcing, building, and operating an open hardware 3D printer. “Open hardware” means that the technology has been developed upon over a period of time by many (possibly hundreds or thousands) or people with a genuine interest in improving and promoting the technology and making it available for the greater good. It’s an organic approach to hardware development, and there are usually no patents or copyrights to contend with. Like Wikipedia is to information, open hardware is to physical technology.

Find a Subject Matter Expert

Some parents or teachers may be perfectly comfortable diving into this project with little or no expertise, but others may feel it’s too far over their heads. In either case, we recommend locating a subject matter expert (SME) to assist you throughout the process. This should be a person—hopefully nearby—with some experience in open hardware 3D printers. Contact a local hackerspace (visit hackerspaces.org to find one) and explain that you need some help with a 3D printer build at a local school.

Hackerspaces are part of the “maker” culture—they are groups of people who like to make or build things themselves, and they will almost certainly have someone with the expertise required and interest required to help with an open hardware 3D printer build. If there is no local hackerspace or if you’re having trouble finding a local SME, contact different hackerspaces in your state or region—most members of the open hardware 3D printer community are willing to help remotely (for example via Skype, email, or chat) as well.

The SME will be a valuable resource throughout the build and will be able to help your team solve problems as they move forward with the build. The SME should also be able to help you arrange demonstrations, or provide access to a reference machine or two to base your build upon.

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