3D Printing on a Budget–RXS 3D Pen Review

Ever since I first saw the 3Doodler show up on Kickstarter, I have been fascinated with 3D pens. These devices promised to open up a new world of creative possibilities to our students. Demo pictures and videos showed 3D bicycles, Eiffel Towers, unicorns, and more, all created with ease by simply drawing…up.  Well, fast-forward a few years and I will testify that either professional artists were at work making everything look so magically simple, or else I am just very inept. Even so, they continue to amaze and inspire my curiosity and creativity, and I am placing them in all of our elementary campuses,

Today, you can find literally hundreds of different sizes and shapes of 3D pens. While the earliest models ran well over $100, the newest are as inexpensive as $8.  After looking at several review sites and customer reviews, I decided upon the RXS 3D Pen for our elementary maker spaces. The RXS runs around $30, and is one of a big family of clone devices, as one manufacturer apparently supplies a few dozen companies. The large number of reviews and low price would seem to indicate that this is a popular model for the casual hobbyist.

The RXS has some nice features worth noting:

  • Because it can run at multiple temperatures, it supports either PLA or ABS filament. PLA is a low-temp filament made from organicmaterials. It prints shinier and with generally fewer flaws, but it is not as strong as ABS. ABS is oil-based and stronger, but prone to warping and gives off significant odor when melted.
  • Filament speed is easily controlled with a sliding bar on the side of the pen. Slower speeds allow greater control and precision. I think students will be more successful with the pen set to the slower speeds, particularly as they get used to the techniques involved in its use. Higher speeds, at least for me, tend to result in sculptures of spaghetti.
  • Loading and unloading are easily accomplished with buttons on the side of the pen, with the loading button also being the control to dispense the melted filament. It feels very natural and comfortable.

I have honestly not encountered any major issues with the pen, which is a very pleasant surprise given the low price point. The only cautions are the strong fumes given off by the included ABS filaments do require ventilation or an outside workspace, and the tip does get very, very hot, meaning students might be wise to wear gloves.

Overall, while my skills are still questionable (as evidenced to the right), I really like this pen. It is a bargain investment that promises to inspire some very exciting creations!

New Podcast: #30: What’s On the Horizon?

This (long-delayed) episode of the Moss Free Show discusses the six educational technology tools identified by the authors of the 2017 Horizon Report K12 edition as having immediate or imminent 2-5 years) impact on teaching and learning. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the identified technologies, or did they miss something more significant?

Listen to “#30: What’s On the Horizon?” on Spreaker.

Matador Makerspaces Supplies

I wanted to share the shopping list for the new elementary makerspace carts, going into all of our elementary campuses in the next few weeks. After soliciting feedback from campus librarians (who will manage the carts as a part of the library inventory) and campus technology teachers, the list evolved from its original form to include more low- or no-tech tools, such as pipe cleaners and craft sticks, and less of the techie stuff I admittedly favor. I did manage to include a few, like MakeyMakeys, 3D pens, etc. You can view the entire list here.

Questions First

I’ve written about it before, but the new year is a great chance to re-visit the topic of teaching and encouraging effective, powerful questioning in our students. As your students get back into the classroom this year, make it clear that questions and a sense of wonder and curiosity are critical to the learning that will take place. Save a spot on the wall, bulletin board, class website, or class Twitter feed just to recognize outstanding student questions–a “Question of the Day.” Better yet, have students nominate outstanding questions as they occur throughout the day and pick the most outstanding at the end of the day. All meaningful change and innovation starts with questions about real problems, yet questions consistently take a backseat to regurgitated answers in education. For much more information and resources to teach effective questioning strategies, visit and join the Right Question Institute. It’s free and filled with helpful tools and information.

Other resources:

Technology Empowered Citizenship

This morning I read an interesting piece by my friend Alec Couros and a colleague of his at the University of Regina, Katia Hildebrandt. The post examines a shift happening in some education circles away from a focus on online safety to a focus on active digital citizenship. Online safety lessons and curricula have mostly focused on how students can avoid harmful or dangerous behaviors, like identity theft, online predators, cyberbullying, etc. Digital citizenship encompasses a broader discussion involving how to interact and participate in a positive manner online. Alec and Katia share a useful resource that contrasts the two here.  Taking it further, they advocate that students be taught to move beyond this personal responsibility focus to one that emphasizes a type of “participatory citizenship” that addresses social problems and the systems that perpetuate them.

I heard a great example of this in the closing keynote by Reshma Saujani at ISTE last week. Ms. Saujani shared the revelation she had during a campaign for congress several years back. Visiting  computer classes as she campaigned, she noticed the pronounced absence of female students. Seeing this as a significant problem for our society, she decided to attack the problem head on by creating a website and a coding club for a small group of girls. She engaged leaders in non-profit foundations, schools, industry, and government in conversations about the gender gap in computer science and has been able to introduce tens of thousands of girls to coding and computer science through her Girls Who Code foundation.

The idea of students using the power of technology and the internet to affect social change is not new, but it is also not the norm in too many schools. As Alec and Katia assert, many schools are still engaging only in a discussion of the consequences of negative behaviors and unsafe practices online.  This is depriving our students from the opportunity to experience empowerment as citizens and engagement as learners. In many schools, online safety or digital citizenship lessons are included only as add-ons, filler activities that allow schools to check off their compliance with state or federal expectations, such as e-Rate requirements. How much more powerful would it be to get students involved in actual citizenship and advocacy as local or global issues and needs arise during the course of instruction. Innumerable opportunities exist during the study of history, science, literature, etc.

The following are a few ideas of my own for engaging students in these types of digital activism or participatory citizenship within the framework of an existing curriculum:

  • Build passion by connecting issues to the students’ world. Does this problem still exist? What impact is it having on me or others? Why is it important?
  • Research the problem. Apply critical skills and media literacy to answer the questions still remaining.
  • Engage students in solution-focused imagining. What could be done to alleviate or solve this problem? Who or what is needed to tackle the issue?
  • Give students the tools to be heard. Teach students to use tools such as blogs, podcasts,  wikis, YouTube, or Twitter allow students to share the issues they are passionate about with a global audience.
  • Connect to other stakeholders. The internet can allow students access to experts, other groups working on a problem, or even those most impacted by the issue.
  • Encourage creative and impactful application. As students learn new technologies, have them explore ways to use them to solve real problems (e.g. using 3D printers to create prosthetic limbs).

These ideas are influenced by and sound a lot like project based learning, problem based learning, or service learning, certainly. And like these pedagogies, students engaging in active, participatory, digital citizenship need more time and flexibility with their projects and products and teachers who are capable of facilitating classrooms with greater levels of student control.

What are your thoughts? Is a focus on online safety good enough for schools? What are you doing with students to promote the use of technology for social impact?

10 Easy Steps to a Maker’s Mentality Classroom

Here are 10 things the innovators of tomorrow should have opportunities to do every single day:

1. Think critically about a real problem

2. Ask questions. Deep, probing, open-ended questions.

3. Communicate/debate the problem.

4. Envision solutions to the problem.

5. Test/prototype the solutions.

6. Solve problems arising from the solutions.

7. Persevere in the face of frequent failure.

8. Regroup and revise solutions.

9. Share what they’ve accomplished and learned.

10. Reflect on the bigger implications of what they did/learned.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge — Supply List

In response to the overwhelming demand (Okay, 3 comments–w00t!), here are the supplies I included in each of the Mystery Maker Bags.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
World’s Slowest Marble Coaster
Using the materials in the bag, create a marble roller coaster that takes as long as possible to get from the top of a table to the floor. If yours takes longer than 15 seconds, you are an engineering genius!

Materials: paper of different sizes; paper towel or toilet tissue tubes; marble; tape; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Never Underestimate the Power of the Gumdrop
Using only gumdrops and toothpicks, create a structure that can hold a textbook at least 6 inches off the ground for at least 1 minute. Feeling confident? How about 12 inches? How about 2 textbooks?

Materials: bag of gumdrops; at least 100 toothpicks; standard-sized textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Foiled Again!
Using only the piece of foil included, create a boat that will stay afloat with as many pennies as possible. How much treasure will your boat float? 10¢? 25¢? A dollar?

Materials: 10″ x 10″ square piece of aluminum foil; couple of dollars worth of pennies, kiddie pool or sink filled w/water

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
One Small Step for Man…
Using the materials in the bag, paper rocket that will go as far on a breath as you possibly can. Feel free to customize the design. Does the shape affect the distance? Would adding extra features, like fins help?

Materials: paper; cardboard index cards; tape; soda straw; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Beware the Bridge to Nowhere!
Using the materials in the bag, create a platform that extends out as far as possible from the edge of a table or chair. The catch? There can be no supports or other parts of the platform touching the ground. If you’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon skywalk, you will get the basic idea!

Materials: newspaper; miscellaneous types/sizes paper; tape; cotton or nylon twine

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
A Bridge over Troubled Waters
Using only straws and pins, build a bridge that can hold as much weight as possible without collapsing. To test the bridge, use the cup and add a few pennies at a time. Don’t look down!

Materials: standard soda straws; box or pincushion and straightpins

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Ping Pong Zip Along
Using the materials in your bag, create a way to transport a ping-pong ball safely to the end of a zip line. If the ping pong ball falls or gets stuck, it’s game, set, and match!

Materials: cotton/nylon string or dental floss; ping pong ball; tape; paper clips; index cards

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
The Paper Elevator
Using nothing but paper and tape, create a structure that will hold a textbook at least 12 inches off the ground. Can you achieve this using the fewest pieces of paper necessary? How about TWO textbooks, smarty?

Materials: standard copier paper; clear tape; textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Paper Helicopter
Using the materials inside your bag, create a helicopter that will fall to the ground as sloooooowly as possible. Make that landing as soft as possible!

Materials: copier paper; 2 index cards; scissors; tape; paperclip

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Launch Catapults!
Using the materials in the bag, create a catapult that can launch a pom-pom as far as you possibly can. Want an extra challenge? Try making the pom-pom hit a target or land in a specific place!

Materials: plastic cup, plastic spoons (2), rubber bands, pom-poms, craft sticks, index cards, scissors

Added this year:

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Don’t Break the Chain

Use the materials in your bag to create the longest chain you can that can support the weight of the included “cargo bag.”

Materials: construction paper, scissors, tape, cargo bags (zippered freezer bag with golf balls, coins, or other similar objects for mass, paperclip opened up and pushed through thick part of zipper for hanging onto chain)

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Tower of Power

Using only what is in the bag, create the tallest free-standing tower you can.

Materials: 20-25 sheets paper, tape

TIP: Schools throw out a LOT of printed-on paper. Instead of using blank paper in some of these projects, hit up the recycling bins and put the used to good re-use!

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