Code to Print

Code Club is on a break until the end of February. Meanwhile 4th grade students have been coding during alternative recess opportunities when the lab is available.

I have seen a growing interest in coding in BeetleBlocks now that we have a 3d printer available to print artifacts and I am quite thrilled.  Most 4th graders have had an introduction BeetleBlocks when we used it to print their names (I have one more 4th grade class to schedule), but printing names of their friends or teachers still interests them.

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Some 3d printed names

Some are just curious to print a single shape – cube, cuboid or sphere. Spheres are the hardest to print – even with a small cuboid base, they don’t print very well.  Students seem to love the prints that “blow up” as well as the successes.

I asked the snowman creator to add a cuboid below so the print would be successful, and it was.

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Snowman artifact

Recently I printed a cannon that a student had made in BeetleBlocks for a social studies report on the Middle Ages.  I asked him to break the code into 2 parts – the barrel and the base thinking that would help the print be successful.  It printed out well enough.  We glued it together with a 3d pen.

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Cannon printed in 2 parts, glued together with a 3D pen

What surprises the students the most is the size of the print compared to what they see on the screen.  Even though we went over the the numbers translate into millimeters.  I try not to scale anything but instead make them go back to the code and change it there.

Recently I printed a pair of rings.  There have been some other rings coded but this was the first project that reached the export to print stage. The 4th grader had started on Monday and measured her finger (with the mm calipers) to code a tube of that diameter.  Then we added a sphere on the top.  That was all we had time for on Monday.  On Wednesday she came in with a list of code she had written down.  She had worked on the project at home and didn’t know how to save it so she wrote down the code and brought it to school.  She also measured her friend’s finger to print one customized for her.

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BeetleBlocks rings

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A pair of printed rings

It only took a few minutes to print.  The size will need some tweaking, but I suspect I will be printing more rings in the future.  We’ve shared the project for others to see or use.

In September I wasn’t sure what 4th graders could do with BeetleBlocks and every week they surprise me with their creativity.  I hope to report more on their explorations in the coming months.

 

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Your Name in BeetleBlocks

In December my school’s PTO approved my grant for a 3D printer. Yes!  Now we can print 3D artifacts using BeetleBlocks.  My idea for the 4th graders’ first project is to design a 3D model of their name using BeetleBlocks code.

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School name printed by school printer using Beetleblocks code

I started with one of my math enrichment groups first. They were my small group test of the idea. This group has played with BeetleBlocks but most recently had been making math games in Scratch.

It only takes about 5 blocks of code to write your name and make a cuboid to keep all the letters together.  It takes a little bit more time to make decisions about the size of the text, the size of the cuboid and where you want to put the block that keeps the letters together.

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basic code stub for project

I gave them the constraints that their name had to fit on the BeetleBlocks grid (20 by 20 ) but they could have their name with the support cuboid behind or below.

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Name on grid with support cuboid below

The technically difficult part was getting the STL files saved where I could access them and that only had to do with the way our computers are networked.

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3D print of name with cuboid behind

The students were really excited about everything and just wanted to sit around the printer and watch it print.

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I was able to print three names at a time. I would have been able to print all nine students names in the time allowed, but I got cocky and changed filament in the middle and that caused a jam that I was not able to resolved before the end of the day.

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3D prints in MakerGeek’s Crystal blue PLA 

You have to understand that the printer arrived at school on Monday and we were printing this project on Friday. On Monday, the 4th graders voted on the filament color for their grade (Crystal blue, by the way) and on Friday, during the middle of printing, the filament arrived!

Based on this experience, I made a one page handout 3d-model-your-name-in-beetleblocks for the next time.  The next group to try this will be the rest of the students in this class.  These first nine will be my experts and help the rest of their class code and export their models.  My goal is to have all three 4th grade classes code and print a 3D model of their name.  Then I’ll try it with the 3rd graders.

The only curious thing I’ve found with BeetleBlocks is the rotational changes that I have to either code up front or adjust in Cura (printer software) to get the correct orientation for printing.

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Strangely, when I save the model on the left, it will import into Cura with correct orientation for printing.

 

Details about our 3D printer:  The grant was for a $400 Printrbot Play.  It is a small printer with a small print bed size – 100 x 100 x 120 mm.   The Play received a few nods from MakeMagazine and 3Dprint.com 3D printer guides. I also have 2 years of experience with Printrbot printers – we have a personal Printrbot Simple at home.

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Introducing Beetle Blocks to Students

I introduced Beetle Blocks to two math groups last week.  My first group was with six 3rd grade students.  They have done a minimal amount of Scratch coding and probably no 2-dimensional graphing (not to mention 3-D graphing).  I only have them for a short 20 minutes.  Still, they were very excited. The first day was just orientation to block-based coding and the categorizing of the blocks.  The second time we met, I asked them to draw a square.

The first time I started them with drawing lines but they were sometimes hard to see.  In the end extruding was easier to see what was going on and exciting to think about printing on our 3-D printer (if we get the grant).  They knew that a square was 4 sided and 4 cornered so we decided the pattern of the blocks would be ‘move some distance, rotate z by some number’ and repeat 4 times (although I didn’t introduce to repeat block yet)

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Drawing a rectangle with different colored sides

It took some trial and error to figure out to turn 90 degrees each time to make a square.  After that success, I asked about making a triangle.  That was too much and they were having too much fun.

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Without the reset button, clicking the green flag again adds to the triangle design

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90-something degrees

These students obviously just need more time to play with Beetle Blocks. It’s going to be a challenge to find the balance between introducing concepts and just letting them explore. They are all very excited and challenged by the program.

On Friday I introduced Beetle Blocks to eight 4th graders in another math group I just got. These students have more Scratch experience than the 3rd grade (more than half are in Code Club, too).  I didn’t make them draw a square, I just let them explore, after a quick demo of some of the key blocks (like reset).

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I also made sure to introduce ‘extrude’ as a vocabulary word they will need to know when we start talking about 3-D printing things.

They were pretty keen on exploring and were able to code interesting things very quickly.

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4th grade explorer

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Super cool outcome by a first time Beetle Blocks coder

These students collaborated and shared some of their experiments.

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I did help with the coding of the variable here.

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I did suggest the use of the nested repeat loop, and the random number.

At the end of the class a couple students indicated that they would be playing with this at home.  “Now I can either use Scratch or Beetle Blocks at home.” said an enthusiastic 4th grade coder.