Jay Wright is the SET, STLAN and Technologies Teacher at Vale View State School in Queensland, Australia and a new Makers Empire ambassador. Previously, Jay worked at Freshwater State School and Bambi Bilingual Kindergarten in Japan. We recently spoke with Jay about his teaching career, his 3D printing journey, how he’s using Makers Empire in the classroom. We also interviewed Jay’s entrepreneurial 9YO son, Tomo, who is using Makers Empire to design models and parts for his custom 3D printing business. 

What inspired you to become a teacher, Jay?

“What got me into teaching and what I love about my job are a little different. When I was younger, I volunteered in the community working with disadvantaged children from impoverished communities. While running activities people told me I was good with kids and should consider teaching. That’s what made me decide on this profession.

“However, It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realised that it was the perfect job for me. I love learning new things and as a teacher, I get paid to learn about the things I need to teach. I enjoy the enthusiasm and humour of the children and how they are usually so positive and optimistic about the future. I love the fact that there is a job where you get paid to help people and sometimes play with cool toys. I get job satisfaction from seeing children overcome challenges, break through barriers and develop positive human characteristics and mindsets. Children really are our future and it will be bright if the right personalities are leading the way.

“Finally, I love the fact that I can spend time with my own children. Two of my three kids are school age and they come to work with me every day. Not many people can say that.”

Tell us a bit about Vale View State School and its approach to learning

“I started as SET three days a week while teaching one day as a year 2 science teacher at another school. This was new for me but I grew to really enjoy it. Later, as staff changed and the number of students with disabilities changed I took on other roles like STLAN to secure a full week of work. Being good with data and passionate about supporting students who struggled, this job also felt right. I enjoyed working on programs to help these struggling students and am very proud of what we have achieved with them.

“I also choose to be optimistic and hopeful about the future of the human race and try my best to stay ahead of the changes that are happening in the world. I think it is an integral part of our job as educators to ensure we are providing an educational program that prepares children to be successful in a world 10 years in the future.  For this, we have to try to predict and learn what this will look like and what skills will be necessary.

“When the opportunity to trial the Digital Technologies curriculum was offered to us in 2015 I jumped at the chance to be involved. Since then we have developed an extremely engaging, relevant and challenging Technologies program across our entire school teaching Digital Technologies and Design to all children in all grades. Recently, children from our school won the Regional Robocup Rescue competition and are off to compete at a state level.

“Our community and leadership team have fully embraced this new curriculum area and we pride ourselves on being leaders in our region for the teaching of it. I could talk forever about the many positive aspects of this little school. We are positive and passionate about teaching, we are very careful to ensure the programs we implement are effective and meaningful and we are forward-thinking and innovative.”

How did you come across Makers Empire?

“I was asked to teach a unit on 3D printing at another school but wasn’t able to do it because of my commitments at Vale View. However, it got me thinking about this technology. I did some research into it and realised the potential it has for supporting the design curriculum and learned of the way it is about to revolutionise how we do things in many different industries. Knowing this, I had to learn how to do it for myself so I bought a printer and started learning.

“My son, Tomo, was very intrigued and came up with the idea of making things to sell. I suggested he should start a business and make it happen. We looked online and with almost all of his saved up pocket money he bought an Ender 3 printer for himself. We created some business cards and a Facebook Business page and started to advertise. The response was overwhelming and he has now made close to $1,000 profit from his $250 printer.

“He has learned so many technical skills and was inspired to become an entrepreneur. I thought about how this can be applied to the design curriculum at school and stumbled across the Makers Empire software.

“One thing my son struggled with was designing custom items for customers as the software I had at the time was overcomplicated and boring for an 8yo. Using the trial version of Makers Empire made me realise this software is perfect for young designers and would align with the implementation of a design curriculum across our school. So I applied for a grant to buy the software licence and some printers.”

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What are the benefits of using Makers Empire in the classroom?

“The kids love it and it is a pleasure to teach with. It is easy to use and all the extra activities do a great job at developing the skills necessary to design printable 3d models in a fun, game-like manner. My students continue their learning at home completing challenges and developing new skills. This is the true value of software. It can provide a platform for students who are enthusiastic to keep learning after the school bell rings. The Makers Empire software does a decent job of reinforcing and encouraging automatically and keeping learning fresh and interesting with the addition of new features, challenges and items.

“Being able to sell your model for game currency and earning currency for completing various challenges supports the teaching of an entrepreneurial mindset which is a great feature. Gamifying the learning process works very well, in my opinion. The addition of the Australian Curriculum aligned challenges is fantastic and really encourages the use of this software in state schools throughout Australia.

“Giving feedback to students and rewarding great work is very easy using the assessment tools. I use this feature a lot. Also, the inclusion of views, likes and comments allow students to learn about being a part of an online community and to practice sharing and viewing creative content with a wider community in a very real and meaningful way.”

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How have you used Makers Empire in the classroom?

“Currently, we teach a design unit for one semester and then a digital technology unit for the next. I looked at the C2C units within these curriculum areas and chose to modify the year 5 and 6 unit called ‘Design for Nature’ to include 3d modelling and printing. In this unit students designed a bird feeder that would attract birds to our school gardens. We used the Makers Empire software in the create phase to bring their designs to life.

“Then we modified a year 3 and 4 unit called ‘Pinball Paradise’. This one we wanted to make it more open-ended and a true design experience, giving students time to work within all staged of the design cycle including making improvements to their design. This time we will allow students to find a problem to solve or an opportunity to improve something and design a product for that purpose using the design cycle and design thinking. We are currently just starting this unit and are developing students 3d modelling skills and understanding of the 3d printing process. This will then lead into an assessment task where they can demonstrate their design skills.”

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What advice would you give teachers new to 3D technology?

“As educators, it is our prerogative to ensure the academic program we offer children provides experiences and develops skills they can use to be successful in the future. This includes understanding the changes that are happening in industries and employment and modify our skills and teaching practices accordingly. What and how we teach has always and will always change to stay relevant in a changing world and teachers need to change along with it to maintain effectiveness as a teacher and employability.

“In addition, technology (software and physical devices) are developing more quickly than most of us realise and can be used as tools to enhance our capabilities. Teachers, if they stay on top of their professional learning in this area, will benefit from the advantages using these technologies gives them. Leveraging the power of technology to enhance our capabilities is an integral part of our job and for that matter, every job from now and into the future.

“Utilise grants to purchase the equipment needed to get hands-on design and digital technologies curriculum happening in your school. 3D Design and 3D printing are great ways to engage students in this subject area and a good choice.

“I think it is a good idea to start with something small like a lunchtime Maker Space. This way you can learn along with the students in a low stakes environment before looking at school-wide implementation.”

Interview with 9YO Tomo, Designer & Entrepreneur

How long have you been into 3D printing and design?

“I started about a year ago. I wanted to get a 3d printer because I wanted to print things for my friends and family. Then I made some money so I decided to start a business printing and selling things to other people. I made over $1,000 so far and I’m still working. I have some expenses like plastic and electricity but I can still make a good profit. I buy some things with my money but save most of it for good experiences around the world when I am older.

What are some of the things you have been doing with 3D printing and design?

“I have printed hundreds of models but my favourite builds are the big ones like the full-size Boba Fett costume, the giant Venom, Huge 1/57th scale Hogwarts castle and full-size R2D2. I print things for kids at school like infinity cubes and characters from games. One time, a girl in the younger grades broke one of her toys and asked if I could fix it. I used a program to make a replacement part and printed it. It worked great and I got some more money. Yay! Also, we are designing things at school using Makers Empire. I am really good at it because of all the practice I have at home.

What do you like about 3D printing?

“I like how you can print whatever you want. I made a costume for myself that is worth over $1,000. But because I made it, it only cost me $40… and a lot of hard work sanding and painting. I can use a sprayer, airbrush, sander and paintbrushes to make things look like the movies. I am pretty good at art so I think I am good at this, too.

What are you making next?

“I am currently making a 1.5m tall Spiderman with my dad. I can’t tell you how much it is selling for but let’s just say it’s a lot. This will be cool because it is so big and we get to paint it after it is printed. I also want to make more Youtube videos for my channel to share what I am doing.

Check out Tomo’s video entry using Makers Empire for the Little Big Idea competition celebrating innovative inventions designed by kids.

Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring experiences and insights, Jay and Tomo. Jay – we love your approach to learning and we’re so glad to have you on board as a Makers Empire Ambassador. Tomo – you’re a really impressive young designer and we look forward to following your entrepreneurial adventures!

Makers Empire: Better learning by design

Makers Empire helps K-8 teachers teach Design Thinking, STEM and 21st-century learning skills using 3D printing. Our pioneering 3D solutions for schools include 3D modelling software, over 150 lesson plans aligned with international standards and professional development. With Makers Empire, engaged students learn how to solve real-world problems and make their world better.