Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Lessons to Share: 3D Printing and Design to Learn Reading & Writing

By on June 17, 2016

So I just finished my first week with my Make Writing class.  This class, as I’ve written about in the past, is intended to help those long-term EL students who have become disengaged with school and with learning.  These kids are always stuck in the drill-and-kill courses, and we thought that one way to address their needs might be to focus on engagement and advocacy as a means to jack up the rigor generally asked of these students.  So we’ve given them access to the 3d Printers and to Project Based Learning.  In addition, these students all agreed to begin their Language Arts class early so we’ve selected a number of summer days to get us going prior to the official start of the new school year.

Many people have been asking how Making (a seemingly STEM-oriented activity) can relate to literacy IMG_6421and writing.  I’ve shared a lesson before that’s proven interesting to people, so I thought I’d also share a few of the lessons we’ve been doing this week to communicate a little about what a two-hour block looks like in the Make Writing summer classroom. The goal is to make learning how to read and write more concrete, more meaningful, and more hands-on.


The class met on Tuesday, and many of the students arrived early to grab a Chromebook and a bean bag chair.  Here’s what we accomplished and some links to the lessons themselves:

  1. We created the shell of our digital portfolios.  That is, we didn’t fill them in, but just created the pages and the students sent me the links so I could create a page of student URLs to refer to throughout the year.  We used Google Sites, and created the following pages: About Me, Works in Progress, Final Drafts, Culminating Projects, Reading Log, Writing Journal, Research Library.
  2. We learned how to calibrate the build-plate for the Ultimaker printers & learned how to change the material. 
  3. We wrote our first writing journal entry and linked it to the Writing Journal page in our portfolio.  This will serve as an informal benchmark of sorts since it’s their first writing piece for me.  See assignment below.
  4. We took a “hands-on” break and watched a how-to video in order to learn to assemble fingers for the prosthetic fingers.  The parts were printed out and in front of them when they entered the classroom.  In the end, we assembled a total of 30 fingers.  The kids ended up having to use needlenose pliers in some cases, and that introduced them to where the tools are in the classroom.
  5. We began reading the young readers edition of I Am Malala.  Since we will be focusing on advocacy, this was a good choice.  It also aligns with the One City, One Book, One Read selection that our high school will be reading as well.  My honors classes are also reading it, but I think these students will get a lot out of the content as well, and since I’ll be touching on child-advocacy models throughout the year, this is great place to start. On Tuesday, we got through the prologue.

Writing Journal #1 Assignment: The first journal entry asked them to listen to the opening song from Hamilton, reading the lyrics as they listened. Then, we read the liner notes from Lin-Manuel Miranda, found on Genius.com, and the students independently watched his performance for the president at an open poetry night at The White House. Then, the students answered the prompt: How do you connect to this song or to Hamilton himself? How is your story connected to that of this founding father?


We met again on Thursday and tried to accomplish the following.  It seemed to move slower today as I mistimed how long it would take them to sift through some of the resources.  I am listing my plan here, but the reality was that we never got to I Am Malala.  We’ll make that up next Tuesday and focus on that more next week instead.  Here’s what the initial plan was:

  1. We assigned students in small groups to different printers.  Maintaining that printer is now their responsibility.  Changing the colored filament, taking orders from other classes, troubleshooting, and researching solutions to failed prints is now assigned to specific groups per printer.
  2. We learned the names of our printers and researched their references.  Names help students “own” the devices, and each group had to research where their printer’s name had come from.  Each printer was named by a student from this year, and this new class now has to learn about its source.  Here are the names: Gutenberg, Prints Hamlet, Printsess Impresora, Ada Lovelace, Mr. Chuck Hulls (pronounced “Chuckles.”
  3. We produced Journal Entry #2 and entered it the Writing Journal page on our digital portfolios. See assignment below. Meanwhile, as they were listening and writing, I opened the links to their portfolios and their 1st Writing Journal entries and made sure all links were operational and shared correctly.  I made comments on their 1st Writing Journals as they produced their 2nd.
  4. I introduced them to Thingiverse in a structured scavenger hunt assignment that also incorporated the history standards.  First they had to define “Open Source.”  Then, they had to find a quote from the history standards in grades 6, 7, & 8 and find an image from Thingiverse that could symbolize each of those history standards.  For instance, a student could enter the following:

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 10.47.55 AM6th Grade

“Around 1500 BCE, Egypt entered the era known as the New Kingdom. Kings such as Thutmose III expanded the Egyptian empire far up the Nile River into what is now Sudan, and into the Levant, that is, the coastal region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Teachers highlight Queen Hatshepsut (ca. 1479-1458 BCE) and King Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great (1279-1212 BCE).”


5. We entered the MLA citation for Thingiverse and the CA History standards document into our “Research Library” page of our digital portfolio.

6. We had planned to read the first chapter of I Am Malala and fill out a summary reading log that would then get linked to the “Reading Log” page of their digital portfolios.


Writing Journal #2: We watched the OK Go! Rube Goldberg Machine.What was the main objective of the machine?  I then asked students to count the steps it took to achieve that goal. (That took forever!) The prompt was: How can you pop a balloon in 10-15 steps?  Hint: start with the last one and work your way backwards.

Next week we’ll be focusing on I Am Malala and summarizing our reading.  I’ll post some more lessons and reflections as I go!

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