In my latest collaboration with our superstar art teacher, Rita Foretich, we are crafting with 1st graders. One of her art standards has to do with students creating a craft, which is defined as an art creation that serves a purpose. Rita is always pushing herself as a teacher to try new things and stretch the boundaries of what kids have experiences with. Along with this standard she wanted students to work with technology and to design in 3D. What resulted was an art project where 1st graders are designing pendants in a 3D design tool called Blokify, 3D printing those pendants, and then using them in art to create a functional necklace.
When Rita first told me about her ideas for this project, my first reaction was whether or not Blokify was the right tool. I had made pendants and charms in other tools like Tinkercad, but I knew that Tinkercad would be very tricky to do with a 1st grade class in the time frame we had. Blokify is very user-friendly for very early learners, but I had trouble envisioning a pendant. I even tweeted out to ask other people what they thought.
What helped me in the end? Tinkering. During our book fair, I pulled out an iPad and just tinkered at making a charm. I can’t say that I came up with anything brilliant, but I did come up with some examples to help students see. The most helpful thing was for them to be able to visualize what the hole for the string might look like.
Each 1st grade class came to the library during their art time. Ms. Foretich started the lesson with a quick video of a Makerbot in action.
It was fun to hear students talk about what was happening in the video because at this point many of them knew that it was a 3D printer, which would not have been the case a few years ago. Then, we showed the students the Blokify program. I really didn’t go into a lot of detail, but I showed them how to zoom in and out, how to add a block, and how to change blocks. Then, students had time to tinker at tables and get familiar with the Blokify program.
Ms. Foretich and I walked around to assist students who were getting frustrated as well as encourage students to try various parts of Blokify such as adding a row, deleting blocks, switching worlds, and switching blocks. Tinkering looked very different this year than it has in previous years, and my hunch is that students have more experience with Minecraft now, so they make the connection to this very similar program. I saw students being much more intentional about block placement even in tinkering instead of just tapping all over the screen.
We invited students back to the carpet after their tinkering sessions and gave them the specific task of the day: to design a one-layer pendant. We showed the examples that I had made as well as samples from other classes that had already printed.
Then, students went back to iPads and started a fresh design. They only had a short amount of work time to create their designs, and I was so impressed with what some of them came up with. They were so much more creative than my own designs! As each student finished we had to email the files to a central email. I had the email account pulled up on the board so that we could see if the emails came through. Many of them didn’t, so we were slowed down by errors. We had to go into the outbox of the email on the iPad and resend most of the emails. For students that we couldn’t email in time, we put post-its on the iPads so that we could email the files after they left.
On the library calendar, I blocked off time slots for me to specifically work on prepping all of the files for 3d printing. When you are working with over 100 .stl files to print, it’s time consuming. I was able to put about 8 pendants on each print plate. Each plate takes anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on how large I make the pendants. I name each file “Pendant 1”, “Pendant 2”, etc. Then, on a sheet of paper I write out the name and teacher of each individual pendant on the plate. These names are also written onto Ziploc bags so that finished prints can go into the bags ready for the art teacher.
I can’t wait to see how the final necklaces turn out once they return to art class. This has been an adventurous collaboration full of challenges, but there have been many rewards along the way too. It was especially rewarding to see some students shine at using Blokify even when they might struggle in other subject areas.