Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Finished Book Igloo

Here is our finished book igloo! Our Stop motion video is posted below. I'm really proud of how the students at Quaker Ridge rallied to build the platform, prototype the igloo, and eventually put it together.  We've dedicated the igloo to Robyn Lane, our principal, who has retired after leading us for ten years. It will be a favorite book nook in our library for years to come! You can read more about the process here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Up! Mini 3D Printer Prints Well, Has Lousy Documentation

The 3D printer farm at Georgia Tech's Invention Studio

I learned about the Up! 3D printer at the Georgia Tech Invention Studio, where it was the printer of choice in their printer farm. If you are ever in Atlanta, I recommend calling the Studio and asking for a tour; it’s an inspiring space run by even more inspiring students. The University Lab Instructors were really positive about the Up! and we decided to give it a shot. We got ours a few days ago and this is my first reaction to the printer.

Set Up

Students unboxing the Up! printer
The Up! comes nearly set up, which is welcome. A test print is waiting for you on the printing plate indicating that the printer had gone through some quality assurance before being shipped. Unfortunately, the quick start manual that comes with the box is really lackluster. It seems to have been poorly translated (TierTime Technology is a Chinese company) and there’s quite a bit that you have to figure out for yourself. Thankfully, the two students who were in charge of the set up are swift. I highly recommend going to the Up! support page to download the full manual straight away. Interestingly, the quick start manual does not mention the existence of the online manual or the need to download the software from the website. Once downloaded, the software installed easily on our iMac, but I’ve heard people have had problems on PCs.

The First Print
Feeding the filament into the extruder is simply done, I’d say it’s easier than our MakerBot. The extruder heats up quickly and starts to push out ABS filament in the same color of the test print that was on the plate. You initialize the printer by holding done the power button, causing some loud beeps to indicate the process is underway. It's so loud, in fact, that I flinched in our library, casting guilty glances at our librarian who was in the middle of a lesson. Calibrating the nozzle has been more difficult than it needed to be. The steep learning curve is a direct result of the lousy documentation. The quick start guide provides no direction and the manual doesn’t help much either. It is recommended to calibrate the nozzle 2mm from the plate but a visual reference would go a long way. If the nozzle is too far from the plate the model will not adhere well to the perforated plate. This will cause edge curling and the ultimate print failure on larger jobs. Through much trial and error, I’ve found that the nozzle has to be really tight to the plate - just a little more than the thickness of paper.

The plate is supposed to heat to help the model adhere. This is a great idea but it seems like the mechanism is not powerful enough to do this adequately. It often requires long preheat times (up to an hour) and even then it’s lacking. Users familiar with the printer often replace the stock heat switch with a more powerful one. I don’t want to wait an hour to print and I’m not sure that I want to upgrade the switch either. For now, I’ve found that Cube Glue works great to keep the models on the plate while printing.

The Up! comes with a great set of tools to remove and clean finished prints. I really appreciated the quality gloves, scraper and exacto knife. Up! also provides Allen Keys and Nozzle Wrenches to help you repair or modify the printer. This sends the right message: take control of this printer - fix it, improve it, take it apart and put it back together again. I especially appreciate the downloadable spare parts library allowing users to print their own replacement parts.


The Up! does a nice job with it’s prints, producing smooth models with decent detail. The print area is on the small side, at 4.7 inches cubed. I like that the printer can use both ABS and PLA filament. Mechanically speaking, the printer is great. The nozzle seems to be maintenance free so far and the extruder heats quickly.  The filament feeds easily. The plate heater is disappointing but at least there is a solution.

The Up! 3D printer is a good deal at $600 but there are some things to consider. Model curl and print failure can easily happen if you don’t have the nozzle calibrated correctly, which has a steep learning curve because of the documentation. You should also heat the plate or use 3D glue to keep the print from curling. If you don’t want to deal with the calibration you might want to look at the Up! Plus 2 because it levels and calibrates automatically. The Plus 2 costs twice as much at $1299.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Building a Book Igloo

Miler Lagos' work "Home" and our inspiration

Our school’s library was in need of book weeding. There were encyclopedias that were twenty years old, books that hadn’t been checked out in thirty years, and some that were just plain falling apart. In fact, there were hundreds of books like this and it just didn’t seem right to throw them out.  It all became clear after our school librarian, Kate Byrnes, discovered this installation by Colombian artist Miler Lagos. This what we needed to do. We needed to mobilize our Young Maker’s club and build a book igloo.

Book Igloo prototype

Having never built such an igloo before, it was important to build a prototype. The Makers Club adeptly stacked books over the course of two afternoons (informed by lots of Minecraft practice) until the igloo began to show signs of structural failure. They did a great job and the prototyping process was really informative. When we started we focused on the width and length of the books. Our test made it clear that it was the thickness that was truly important: each row needed to be built with similarly thick books.

Maker Club building the igloo platform

Then the kids helped me build a platform for the igloo. We want the igloo to be movable in order to keep the library space flexible and for more practical reasons, like cleaning the rug. I was especially proud of one of our middle school helpers who figured out how to build a brace for the casters.

Students answering the question, "What does reading mean to me?"

Once the platform was ready we had students use sharpie markers to answer the question “What does reading mean to me?” Their answers are amazing and they add a warmth and personal feeling to the project. Our book igloo is becoming an art installation like Miler Lagos’ work. Unlike Lagos’ igloo, ours will be permanent. Each book will be glued into place by construction adhesive creating a book nook where students can enjoy reading. The igloo will be a centerpiece of the library next year and I’m looking forward to blogging about the finished project as soon as it’s done.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Google Slides Student Museum

Back in March I had the good fortune of sitting in on +Caren Macconnell’s Google Summit workshop on Choose Your Own Adventure Using Google. Caren did a great job and really got my wheels turning - you can do a lot with this kind of interactivity and it shines in the classroom.

In the past I've used a wiki to create interactive stories like this. It worked pretty well but graphics were more complicated than they needed to be and students couldn’t work on the same page at the same time. Google Slides is a much more flexible and user-friendly tool.

Creating non-linear links or buttons in a Slides presentation is a snap. Just select the text or shape that you want to link to another slide, click the link button, then select the destination slide. This process is even easier if you title the slides beforehand.

This came in handy recently after a local artist visited one of our second grade classrooms. Caren shared a museum template during her Summit workshop that becomes a great showcase for student work and reflections. This was the inspiration for the Museum at QR Slide deck embedded in this post.

Like Google Drawing, slides is an under appreciated tool. I think Slides is sometimes mistaken as limited because it’s easy to use. Don’t fall for this trap, nothing is further from the truth.