Blog: Bright Ideas

Introducing Middle Schoolers to 3-D Printing and Design Principles Can Spark Creativity

Persistent is a word that describes Param Jaggi, a young Texan who had two patents to his name by age 16. His favorite pastime as a child was picking up five random objects and challenging himself to put them together to create useful inventions. Viewing environmental problems as “creative opportunities” and undaunted by rejection, Param invented his EcoTube after “hundreds of iterations.” It uses algae to reduce carbon emissions from automobile exhaust pipes by 10 to 20%.

Another young innovator, Andrew Pelham was just 11 years of age and thinking of his little brother and sister when he was motivated by news stories of infants dying in hot cars. His invention, the E-Z Baby Saver, constructed from rubber bands and Duck tape, was runner-up in a nationwide contest. But Andrew defines success as saving just one life.

Katherine Wu invented a driving app before she was even old enough to drive. For the 14-year-old, motivation came in the form of her drowsy dad. A finalist in the 2014 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, she invented a proactive cell phone app which, when used with a headset, detects eye blinks and EEG waves to alert drivers to drowsiness before an accident can occur. 

What each of these youthful inventors and their counterparts around the world have in common is powerful motivation and strong confidence in their problem-solving abilities. The spark of youthful creativity combined with these attributes is an amazing combination, and with the right tools to help bring ideas into reality, kids can be unstoppable innovators. One of the most beneficial technological advancements for inventors of all ages in recent years is the 3-D printer. It has put product development and rapid prototyping into the hands of the average person with an idea. What you may not know is that exposure to 3-D modeling, printing, and design principles can be as close as your local summer camp.

Understanding The Variables of 3-D Printing and Design

There are many variables involved in the 3-D modeling and printing process. First, there is the hardware—the 3-D printer itself. These vary greatly from small, inexpensive set-ups appropriate for DIY and hobby use at home to much larger, pricier models appropriate for the manufacturing and medical industries. The second important variable is the printer’s substrate; these too vary widely from edible materials to paper, plastics and other polymers, ceramics, rubber and a variety of metals. The third variable is the software used to model and customize for printing. From free shareware to expensive and complex design software, there are programs for beginners to expert users.

The real value of 3-D printing is that it makes the opportunity to manufacture unique goods more accessible to the average person. The ability to design and then quickly create prototypes will significantly increase the speed with which inventors can produce and bring their ideas to market. The downside is that as a newer technology, 3-D printing is not yet a universally faster or less-expensive method of production. This will change as the technology is used and improved, and as it becomes more readily available. 

Galileo Summer Quest campers cleaning up 3D prints.

The Applications Of 3-D Printing

The possible applications of 3-D printing or additive manufacturing are only beginning to be realized. Some current and future uses include:

  • Edible applications that include confections and ornate wedding cakes. In the future, 3-D printers could revolutionize healthy eating by customizing delicious food with specific nutritional content tailored to a person’s dietary needs. 
  • As a building construction technology, 3-D printing is in the early stages, but promises to build homes and commercial buildings quickly and more inexpensively. 
  • Increasingly efficient and accessible, 3-D printed furniture, sculpture and pottery can be complex and detailed. The potential to customize artistic, one-of-a-kind pieces is intriguing. 
  • Athletic shoes, eye glasses and jewelry can be custom fit with made-to-order style and color. These fashion options have great appeal for many tweens and teens.
  • 3-D printer production of metal parts for automobiles, aircraft and tools reduces the sizable waste associated with molded parts and uses less energy than traditional manufacturing, too.
  • Medical applications, such as prosthetic limbs, orthotic braces and dental implants, allow for precise measurements to be translated to devices specifically tailored and fitted to each individual. Even more exciting is the potential to lay down layers of live cells, thus creating implantable organs and tissues.

Galileo Summer Quest camper shows off 3D prints.

3-D Printing Technology For Middle Schoolers

At Galileo Summer Quest, kids entering 5th through 8th grades can get a week-long introduction to 3-D modeling and printing. Campers start with an idea that exists only as an image in their mind and throughout the course of a week work to make it take shape before their eyes. Kids learn technical skills related to 3-D modeling and printing, and they have their prototype prints as evidence. 

But they also gain something that may not be immediately visible. Galileo campers are immersed in the Galileo Innovation Approach®, and they spend a week seeing themselves as competent creators. As visionary inventors, kids learn to apply problem-solving strategies to envision unique solutions. Courageous, they must trust their ideas enough to share them. As collaborative team members, they will learn to support their peers and to accept feedback from them. Throughout the process, campers must be determined to stick with it through failed prints and reworks. And finally, it is through looking back on learning experiences and talking about them that we make meaning, so campers will be encouraged to be reflective, both individually and with their team. The design process and the Innovator’s Mindset will be takeaways kids can use over and over again in a variety of diverse contexts long after camp has ended. 

Though kids may be excited about the chance to use a 3-D printer to create toys or wearables, participating in Galileo Summer Quest gets them in on the ground floor with this amazing, cutting-edge technology. After their action-packed introduction, they will be poised to continue on with 3-D printing as a hobby or to move into further applications as a career. With the help of the Galileo Innovation Approach, they learn to trust in their ability to solve problems and use their creative sparks to forge solutions.

Enroll your emerging inventor at a Galileo Summer Quest camp in your area: San Francisco, Southern California, and Chicagoland. Register for a camp session or sign up for our mailing list to keep up-to-date with camp happenings and innovation resources. Or, for more information about Galileo camps, contact us here.