How I Use It
Our elementary school got a grant the provided us with a STEAM Lab and a 3-D printer. I wanted to see if I could have my 5th grade students create something in their art class that could be printed with the 3-D printer. After looking at a variety of options, I landed on Tinkercad.
Each 5th grade student was given the task of creating a building for a future city. I figured that buildings would be a logical place to begin exploration of 3-D form because they are most often based on simple cubes, rectangular prisms, pyramids, etc. As a class, we looked at some examples of classical architecture to get some ideas going. Each student made their own building using laptops from our laptop cart. Once completed, these buildings were printed using a FlashForge 3-D printer. Each of the 4 classrooms of 5th grade students was assigned a different color of plastic so that they could be identified. The finished buildings were then arranged to form a city laid out in blocks.
Overall, my students had great success using Tinkercad to create their buildings. There was an obvious learning curve as they gained familiarity in manipulating the 3-D shapes and how the building plane worked. Sometimes there were issues with students working from one perspective. They would not change their view of their building until they had it "looking good." However, when rotated, they suddenly noticed that nothing was actually lined up. Sometimes this created gaps in between different shapes.
It was difficult to use Tinkercad on the laptops, but only because the laptops did not have mice. Using the trackpads on the laptops was not the best way to move the cursor around and it made things a lot harder for the students. If we had mice to go with the laptops, I am confident that our results would have been even better than they were. Similarly, with mice, I believe that this project could be extended to 4th or even 3rd grade students in a limited fashion.
My fifth graders were allowed to build on a 30 x 30 mm platform, but were able to do almost anything that they wanted in their building design. I showed them how to make form and change their sizes and orientations. I also demonstrated using transparent forms to create holes in their designs. Once they had these basics, they were off and running. Almost every student found success. For younger grades, I would probably simplify the challenge and make things a little more simplistic. For instance, rather than allowing total freedom of design, we may do a step-by-step assignment to create a specific object. This would familiarize the students with Tinkercad so that they could be more creative in the future.
Overall, I feel that Tinkercad is a very effective, accessible tool to use with younger students while also providing opportunity for more complex designs for advanced students. The program teaches 3-D manipulation of forms and seems to be a very good introduction to CAD software.
I would like if there were more pre-designed objects to be added to a design. As it stands, Tinkercad has a set of objects that can be added to your design. For my class, I allowed them to use the "Geometric" set of forms (cube, pyramid, cone, rectangular prism, etc.). However, I would have liked to have had some objects that were already made for them. For instance, I could have made columns, windows, or doors and allowed the students to make their own or use mine. This would have given them a little more to start with and would have been particularly helpful for struggling students. Likewise, if the students could make objects and share them with the class to use collaboratively, that would be a great feature.
Even as it is, Tinkercad is a very useful piece of web-based software. I particularly enjoyed the fact that it was web-based for a few reasons. Getting things installed on district computers is not always very easy. I was able to grade their buildings from home on my own computer. Laptops were able to be distributed without worrying about having the "right" laptop for each student. Essentially, web-based software stores the designs in a cloud type of format so that you can access the work from any device and edit in on any device. It makes for a very efficient classroom environment.
I really like Tinkercad and definitely plan on using it in the future for more projects!