How a Technology Educator is Using Makers Empire 3D in Classroom, Remote and Hybrid Learning

Dr. Tricia Barton is the K-5 Technology Educator at McDole Elementary School in Kaneland, USA. Dr Barton has been teaching for 23 years in elementary schools: she spent 17 of those years as a librarian, and also taught science, math, and social studies in 4th grade. The last few years Dr Barton has been teaching Kindergarten through 5th grade Technology, an exploratory class where students learn keyboarding, productivity applications, coding, and other technology based skills. We recently spoke with her to learn how she is using Makers Empire in classroom, remote and hybrid learning this year.

How is your school using Makers Empire in the classroom or with remote and hybrid learning?

Since we use the ISTE Standards to inform our curriculum in the Technology class, 3D design fits in wonderfully as a way for students to apply many of the skills we expect them to gain. 

For example, last year our 3rd grade students integrated 3D design with their online research unit. Along with the research itself, students were starting to apply word processing skills. Then, they used what they learned about their chosen animal to design and print a model in white filament which they then painted in their Art exploratory class. We finished this unit right before having to close due to COVID.)

This year, because of the difficulty going between remote and hybrid schedules and maintaining continuity, I gave the 5th grade students free choice to design whatever they wanted. Regardless of the project, the basic objectives remain the same: 

  1. Plan out a project using digital tools;
  2. Arrange and manipulate simple geometric elements and 3D solids using CAD software;
  3. Complete the steps of the design process within a project;
  4. Improve on the original plan; and
  5. Revise.

What do your students think of Makers Empire?

My students love Makers Empire! They find the tutorials helpful as they learn to design and manipulate in 3D. They also enjoy the social aspect of it, being able to share their work with other students. I find that many of the students who are adept at (and hooked by) Makers Empire are not the ones I might expect. I’ve seen students who are a little indifferent to academic work will spend a lot of time on details in their designs. 

What have been the benefits of teaching with Makers Empire? Have there been any challenges?

Makers Empire makes it incredibly easy on the teacher end to assign and assess. We’ve done 3D design with other apps, but Makers Empire has made the process much smoother. It also allows for more personalized learning, being well scaffolded for students who need more support and seemingly limitless with the complexity and creativity students can achieve.

What advice would you give to teachers new to 3D design and 3D printing?

I think it’s important to set aside time for both you and your students to play with the (Makers Empire) app and the (3D) printers. I know it’s difficult to find time, but I’ve found that when incorporating new technology, I often learn best by learning WITH my students. Also, connect with other teachers who are familiar with 3D design and printing. There are great communities online (like Makers Empire!) with people willing to share their knowledge

How is teaching this year compared to previous years?

The 2020-2021 school year has definitely been challenging. Our district is fortunate to be able to offer fully remote learning or hybrid (in person two to three days a week, asynchronous on the other days) as a choice for families. As an exploratory teacher, it means I sometimes only see a class twice a month. Keeping continuity in instruction for students has involved much more deliberate planning on my part than in previous years.

What have been the positives and challenges this year?

Because of the more deliberate planning this year, I found that I and my colleagues in the other three elementary schools in our district who have the same role became much more cohesive in our lesson design. Related to that is being able to bring them into Makers Empire and their first year of 3D printing, which has been exciting for all of us. 

It’s also been interesting to experience class sizes of 6-10 students. On one hand, I feel like I’m better able to ensure my students are getting the attention they need, but on the other hand, if I only see them two or three times a month, it makes it difficult to do longer projects. Makers Empire lets them keep designing at home on their asynchronous days so we can maximize our time in person.

What advice do you have for teachers finding 2021 stressful?

My advice is to be gentle to yourself, and focus on the positive things that are happening in your classroom. This year is different in ways most of us have never experienced, and the constant need to adapt is draining. There are good things coming from that constant adaptation, but not everything is going to go like we expect, and as teachers I think we often hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations. 

Wise words, indeed. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us, Tricia. 

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