Keyrings teach complex STEM skills

Year 6 students at St Michael’s Catholic Primary School Lane Cove have built STEM skills by creating key rings – each the product of many hours of work using complex design software and a Sydney Catholic Schools 3D printer.

Students used TinkerCad to create their designs, which had to meet set size specifications, be printable using a plastic polymer, and meet criteria set by their teacher. Success required that they learn about the process and science behind 3D printing, including engineering elements and the properties of the materials being used to create their design.

Many students set their own extension elements to the task, completing their initial project and moving on to create models and further designs in Tinkercad, excited by the idea of expanding their use of the software with further creations.

‘The focus was on the algorithm thinking skill set, and also on problem solving,’ said the school’s STEM Co-coordinator Janet Weir.

‘A lot of their designs weren’t exactly what they thought they were, so they had to evaluate where they had gone wrong. Although the stipulation was 7cm, some were 7mm and some were 70 cm and didn’t fit on the template! So they had to evaluate where they had gone wrong – there were a lot of Maths concepts in there.’

‘Having system resources like the 3D printer available supports your teaching and gives it that authentic side. I can teach them but when they see it in practice it just gives that depth of meaning to what I’m talking about.’

If there’s a problem you can’t just click a button and it’s fixed

– Eddy 

Students were excited by the possibility that 3D printing could be used in the future to create everything from fashion to food and medicine, and had numerous ideas for other designs including a tiny Pikachu, an air-powered racing car and an intricate miniature city.

They said the project had taught them more than technical skills, building patience, collaboration and problem solving.

‘I learned it doesn’t just take two seconds to design something, even if it is very simple,’ said Year 6 student Alexa. ‘You still have to create the size, the shape, the colour, and if you make one little mistake sometimes it can actually affect the whole thing.’

.If there’s a problem you can’t just click a button and it’s fixed,’ agreed Year 6 student Eddy. ‘You’ve got to fix it yourself, because you’re designing it.’

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