Novices in Nova Scotia: How 3D printing enabled a classroom of meaningful makers

Over a five year period, GE is investing $10 million in educational programs to deliver polymer 3D printers to primary and secondary schools and metal 3D printers to colleges and universities around the world.

We caught up with Jeff Hennigar, a grade 4/5 teacher at BLT Senior Elementary School, based just outside Halifax in Nova Scotia, to hear how he, his class and their wider community are benefiting from being part of the GE Additive Education Program. Jeff picks up the story.


Learning curves

Last year I received a few local grants in Canada that allowed me to buy a 3D printer.  At the time it was new to both me and my students. As anyone who has tried 3D printing can contest, there is a pretty big learning curve for teachers - more so than there is for the students! 

I spent many hours learning how to use the printer properly and completed several whole-class design projects, including personalized keychains, Sphero accessories and free-choice designs. 

My students loved having the printer in our classroom and many even designed items at home to print at school. Despite this, I knew I still hadn't found the best way to make this a meaningful tool in my classroom.  It was too teacher-centric. I was the person responsible for using the print software and keeping it printing, and with only one printer, there was slow turnaround printing student projects.

In August 2017 I found out I was accepted to take part in the GE Additive Education Program, which provided a kit including two 3D printers, plenty of filament, curriculum-linked materials and access to Polar Cloud 3D print software and several design apps.  

This package introduced me to tools that allowed me to solve my main issues. With the web-based Polar Cloud software, students have access from any device to slice and queue print jobs, and I don't have to do a thing. And the Polar Cloud syncs with all three printers, so student projects are printed much faster.


Merry making

Now we were firing on all cylinders, I was on the lookout for a project to get the entire class involved. Inspired by Nick Baskwill, a fellow teacher in Nova Scotia, for our main launch into 3D design, I decided to have my students design, print and sell Christmas ornaments for a good cause.  

Students felt excited because we had a meaningful purpose and audience. At first, some of them struggled with tasks, such as resizing shapes to scale and positioning objects, so I decided to try Maker's Empire, one of the apps recommended by the GE Additive program.

For those students who preferred to work with their hands and perhaps not as interested in 3D modeling and mass producing their designs, I picked up a bucket of Perler beads. During the next four art classes, our classroom was run like a maker space. And since GE Additive supplied us with filament, we had no overhead costs.

With production underway, my students soon turned their attention to marketing the forthcoming Make Sale with the school and community. Some made posters, while others wrote scripts and notices to inform other classes and parents about the project.

We held our Make Sale at the school's Christmas concert and sold over 200 student-made 3D-printed and Perler bead ornaments. Students were smiling ear to ear as excited adults and kids surrounded the table to buy their ornaments. It was a very powerful moment for them.

In total our project raised $347, which we proudly donated to our local children's hospital, the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.


Digital problem solving

I'm so glad I was able to be there on the night to see how proud my class was. The project gave us a mutual goal to work towards, and the class worked so hard to make it a great success.

The 3D printing set-up we have in place now is integral to how I teach digital problem solving. It encourages students to take ownership of projects and collaborate, be that in our classroom or on a Google Hangout with students from another school.

Our next project is completely different and goes to show how 3D printing can be adapted across the curriculum.  We’re about to start studying Nova Scotia’s aboriginal heritage – so, the next thing you’ll see from us will be 3D printed archeological artifacts!