3D Printing to enhance student accessibility and build community
The arrival of the 3D Printer in late June sparked a lot of excitement amongst the students at Georges Vanier Elementary. Just as our digital tools are used to create rather than consume, I encouraged my students to think about how we might design and print items that were useful, that had a purpose. Items had to have the power to enhance or improve or function as a tool to show learning.
Four Grade 4 and 4/5 classes participated in this project with lessons and discoveries spread over 3 weeks. We talked about what we might accomplish with the printer within our school community. Students were keen to hold the items that we had test printed and I encouraged them to think about students in our school who might benefit from being able to use their sense of touch. Classes quickly came up with the name of a blind student, which got them asking questions about how he is able to read or navigate his way through the school.
The Grade 2 visually impaired student agreed to demonstrate to one of the groups how he uses his Brailler and how he reads Braille. I filmed the session to show to the other three classes. Students asked lots of questions and ultimately pitched their idea to the student. What if we designed, printed and affixed braille room signs about the school? Would that be helpful or useful? The blind student agreed to give it a try.
Students explored books written in braille and marvelled at the blind student’s expertise. Using a map of the school and walking the hallways, students used pencil and paper to transcribe into dots, the room signs they would like to create. They felt that some rooms, such as music, multipurpose or office were never called by their number so would have names rather than room numbers.
We created .stl files using OpenSCAD and Tinkerine Suite printed on our Tinkerine Ditto Pro. Each file took perhaps 5 or 6 minutes to print. Our printer is in the Learning Commons beside a large hallway window so is easily visible to passing traffic. I posted notices on the window explaining what was currently printing.
We expect to have all of the signs hung by the end of next week. So far the visually impaired student is pleased with the results. “Sometimes I overshoot my classroom and I end up in music”. Although he might be unlikely to get lost in his familiar school, practice in reading room signs is a useful skill.
This was a positive, insightful and reality based project that set us on the right path for attitudes towards the value of 3D printing. Students began to see the printer not as a gadget to make toys but as a tool to help bring about change, to show learning and to celebrate our Vanier community. The students recognized the value of what they were creating. The project was meaningful, authentic and challenging.
Stay tuned for news on our next project.