We recently had the opportunity to chat with Colleen Small, the media specialist at Groveland Elementary in Minnesota, USA. She started using Makers Empire only a few months ago but is very happy she made the switch from Tinkercad. Compared to Tinkercad, both she and her students have found Makers Empire to be easier to use and more enjoyable.

As the school’s media specialist, Colleen doesn’t see her students everyday so ease of use is very important.

She explains, “I only see the student’s every two weeks, so they do lots on their own.”

For 3D software to be embraced by both students and teachers, it had to be easy to use. Colleen originally started using Tinkercad because the software is free but she soon found issues with it.

“Tinkercad is kinda clunky, enrolling kids is a disaster and I was very frustrated with it,” she says.

Candid feedback from a second grade student soon convinced Colleen to make the switch to Makers Empire.

This student told Colleen that she enjoyed using Makers Empire at home to design in 3D, completely unrelated to any school assignments. Now if a seven or eight year old wanted to use Makers Empire 3D design app in their free time, Colleen decided her other students would love it as well.

Colleen was right. She says, “the students love it. They picked it up very quickly. Now, they are better at it than I am!”

In a different way, Colleen liked Makers Empire’s teachers’ dashboard, which makes it easy to add your classes and then add students into those classes.

Another frustration with Tinkercad Colleen had was that it cannot be used on ipads. The wide use of ipads in elementary and middle schools makes this a real issue, especially at schools with 1:1 ipads.  At Groveland Elementary, the 5th grade students all have 1:1 ipads.

When Colleen was using Tinkercad the fifth grade students could not use their individual ipads for their 3D design projects. But now that the school has switched to Makers Empire, designing in 3D “works beautifully on the ipad”.

To get started Colleen had her students work their way through the tutorials and challenges that are built into the software. This taught them how to use the app. Colleen worked through these challenges herself, too.

Colleen explains, “The software is intuitive enough once the students do the challenges – they just get it.”

Makers Empire is specifically designed to be used in the classroom as an educational tool. There are plenty of resources to help guide and inspire teachers and professional development is included to ensure successful implementation.

When it came time for the students to do a lesson, she asked the students to draw out their ideas in 2D on engineering paper first and then render those designs into 3D using Makers Empire.

Recently, Colleen’s students did a lesson around the Ronald Dahl classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She set the stage by explaining that poor Willy Wonka doesn’t know how to make a chocolate mold and needs the students help. This human centered design builds empathy and is similar to the design process for real world applications. Plus, this lesson is cross curricular: students can read Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in English, design their chocolate mold in art, calculate the capacity of their mold in math and then 3D design and print their molds in their technology class.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Colleen. We look forward to seeing what you and your students design next!


Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D. is a passionate educator with a strong scientific background. She earned a bachelors degree in biochemistry at San Diego State University and went on to earn a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of NSW. Throughout her studies she tutored her fellow students. Her experience presenting science shows and workshops to children convinced her of the value of a hands-on education. She believes Makers Empire is the way to make learning hands on and harness the power of 3D printing technology in education.


Makers Empire: Better Learning By Design

Makers Empire helps K-8 teachers teach STEM/STEAM concepts, design thinking principles and 21st century learning skills using 3D printing. Our pioneering 3D solutions for schools — 3D Learning Program and Learning by Design Course — include 3D modelling software, over 100 curriculum-aligned lesson plans and professional development. Makers Empire is used by thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students in Australia, the USA, Asia and Europe. Join our community today!

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