Tag: imagination

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!

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:

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.

47 (and Counting) School Maker Prompts

towerbuildingThe following are a few ideas to get kids’ (and your) wheels turning and creative juices flowing in a school makerspace. They are from my own mind or have been adapted from a wide range of sources, including websites, blogs, conference sessions, and personal conversations, too many to recall. The vast majority of the ideas require little in the way of expensive technology tools, instead using paper, tape, glue, cardboard, etc. A few utilize tools such as MakeyMakey, Arduino, etc. Materials can be kept in a specific room, if you are so fortunate, or can travel in storage tubs. The prompts can be written on challenge cards in the spaces/tubs.

  1. Create a paper chain that can support as much weight as possible when suspended between two chairs.
  2. Make a book light that automatically turns on when you open a book.
  3. Write and construct a popup book.
  4. Using 20 sheets of paper and masking tape, construct the tallest tower you can build.
  5. Use Circuit Stickers to make an electronic “choose your own adventure” book.
  6. Make an “Operation” game using MakeyMakey.
  7. Construct a class doorbell.
  8. Build a model vehicle that can move across a flat surface without being pushed or pulled by you.
  9. Design and build a usable and attractive piece of furniture from cardboard.
  10. Build a carnival game (a la Caine’s Arcade).
  11. Use typical household objects as brushes to paint a work of art.
  12. Make a keepsake box that lights up when opened.
  13. Use fabric scraps to design a piece of jewelry or accessory.
  14. Re-purpose “failed” 3D printed objects.
  15. Make a flipbook animation.
  16. Make an everyday object better.electronic book
  17. Complete the Mystery Bag challenge.
  18. Draw a picture or write a message using “invisible ink” (lemon juice).
  19. Create an original design for a paper airplane.
  20. Sew a pillow.
  21. Make a musical instrument and compose an original song.
  22. Design your dream house, then use paper or cardboard to construct a scale model.
  23. Make a toothbrush robot (“bristlebot”) that can actually move in a specific path.
  24. Make a paracord bracelet.
  25. Build a sound cannon.
  26. Make a balloon and sand “stress ball”.
  27. Create an origami menagerie.
  28. Make an avatar mask.
  29. Construct a catapult that can launch a ping pong ball into a specific target (bucket, can, etc.).
  30. Modify/customize a toy.
  31. Construct a newspaper geodesic dome.
  32. Make an automatic plant waterer.
  33. Learn to knit.
  34. Make your own hard-bound book.
  35. Customize a piece of clothing.
  36. Using a Lilipad, create an article of clothing to make people safer at night.
  37. Use Scratch to make a racing game.
  38. Make a stop-motion movie.stopmotion
  39. Create an electronic sculpture from aluminum foil and basic electronic components.
  40. Make an article of clothing or accessory from duct tape.
  41. Make a piece of recycled art.
  42. Create a sound amplifier.
  43. Construct a homemade flashlight.
  44. Solder a circuit.
  45. Create a flashing sign.
  46. Make art from an old book.
  47. Build a Lego marble maze.

Don’t forget, of course, that students will have their own, amazing ideas for projects if we equip them with the time and materials. I would love to hear your ideas! What other prompts could you share?

Sowing Seeds of Innovation in the Classroom

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

I have been struggling mightily lately with just how best to give our students more opportunities to imagine, invent, inquire, and create. I have witnessed so many formerly great teachers succomb to the quicksand of assessment preparation in recent years, abandoning the activities and settings that once inspired their kids to do amazing things. I am not judging these teachers. I realize the bureaucracy and profit-driven, immensely powerful forces that work against genuinely beautiful teaching and learning today. But we cannot just cave in and become glorified tutors, not if our kids are going to achieve their dreams and solve the problems we share tomorrow. We must find ways to inspire new ideas and dreams, and achieving exemplary scores on the state tests is, frankly, completely irrelevant.

With the goal in mind of creating this type of classrooms, I would like to offer this quick guide to regaining “genius-inspiring educator” status:

1. Be curious. Teachers who love learning, and I mean really love it, ask questions, read, visit new places, seek out strange new worlds, make, and explore. We all say we love learning, but few live it. Curiosity is contagious, and curious adults beget curious kids.

2. Be bold. Don’t fear trying a new approach or a new resource. Buy that Raspberry Pi or Arduino and see what you can do. You might fail, but you might succeed magnificently. The good news is that your students are highly unlikely to be ruined for life.

3. Be nonprofessional.  Resist the sage-on-the-stage role now and then, unless you have something to say that inspires or prods a student in the directions that help answer their questions or put their ideas into action. Give up the all-knowing-one title whenever possible.

4. Be equipped. Invention and creativity are resource-intensive tasks. Keep your classroom well-supplied with varieties of paper, fabrics, cardboard, glue, tape, simple electronic components, wood scraps, etc. A simple not home to parents is the ticket to keeping your supply closet or box filled.

4. Be a failure. Plan, execute, and fail, then let your kids see how you respond productively. Don’t fail on purpose, but don’t hide it, either. Ever have a lesson that just fell flat on its face, then you regrouped, redesigned, and conquered? Oh, me either…cough.

5. Be a borrower. Look for ideas from other teachers for ways to make learning more engaging, inventive, and meaningful. Get a PLN if you don’t have one, and start asking questions. Really radical idea–look for ideas from your students.

5b. Be a giver. Share your triumphs, your kids’ moments of inspired genius, your great activities, your hits, and your misses.

6. Be an advocate. Brutal honesty here, but too many schools and administrations have stopped caring about kids and want classes to exclusively be test preparatory programs, often to the point of forcing scripted, horridly standardized curricula. No research on the planet supports this model of student learning. Fight to make your class better for the unique needs of your kids. This means being a bit of a rebel at times, too. It may even mean looking for other opportunities, if leadership can’t reclaim the vision that brought them into the business.

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