Introduction: How to Bring Tinkercad Into Your Classroom

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Dear Teacher: You can do this.

In fact, you should do this. And this Instructable is here to help!

We have thought about all the things you might be worried about in teaching 3D design for the first time, so we have them covered in the next few steps.

In addition, you are probably here because you are dreaming about how teaching 3D design might not only reshape your classroom, but also your students' futures. This Instructable will walk you through how to:

  • Set up your classroom for Tinkercad
  • Rethink your curriculum through the lens of 3D design
  • Enhance collaboration - both in your classroom and with your teacher team
  • Manage your classroom for making
  • Transform your classroom culture
  • Connect with the larger maker community

So leave the anxiety behind. You got this!

Step 1: Know Your Tools

Before you attempt to bring this exciting tool into your classroom, you'll want to spend some time exploring it yourself first. The best place to start is with Tinkercad's "Basic Skills Lessons." Each interactive lesson takes only a few minutes to complete and, by the time you finish all six, you'll have learned to use all the key features in the program. It's really that simple - people are always surprised by how easy it is to get started with Tinkercad.

Also keep in mind that you don't need to be an expert in order to bring new technology into the classroom. Don't think you need to know all the answers. Learning along with students is half the fun!

Step 2: Set Up Your Classroom for Tinkercad

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Most classes that incorporate 3D design will require a few basic materials.

The chart above will help you identify the necessary resources you will need. You can learn more about how educators and students can access Tinkercad and Fusion 360 for free here. Tinkercad is a very easy to learn, COPPA compliant, and browser-based application - which makes it ideal for teaching students in K12. Fusion 360 is a more advanced professional tool, requires downloading, and is a great next step once you’ve mastered Tinkercad.

In addition to these resources, access to a 3D printer is certainly helpful, but not required. 3D printing is a great way to create quick, inexpensive, limited-run prototypes or one-of-a-kind objects and offers you and your students many tangible benefits, including:

  • Increased student engagement as they see their ideas brought to reality
  • The opportunity for students to learn how things work and test printed designs
  • Physical representations of concepts

There are endless options when it comes to selecting a 3D printer. Two good reference guides to help you do so are Tom's Guide to the Best 3D Printers of 2017 and RobotShop's Guide for Choosing a 3D Printer (2015).

Still not sure about 3D printing? Read this: 7 Benefits of Using 3D Printing Technology in Education.

Other materials that are not required but definitely useful are:

  • A temporary makerspace stocked with items such as clay, popsicle sticks, glue, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, string, and blocks for brainstorming and prototyping design ideas before students get on their computers. (Pro tip: Major craft stores after holidays are great places to find maker supplies on clearance.)
  • Recyclables work too!

Step 3: Rethink Your Curriculum Through the Lens of 3D Design

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If you are here reading this, you are probably already thinking that 3D design might be a really powerful way for students to express their understanding. However, you don't need to reinvent the wheel - leave that to your students! Here are some thoughts to get your gears in motion:

Do what you already do... just make it better.

Rather than creating new projects, rethink ones you already assign and offer your students the chance to show what they know through 3D design. For example, check out this story about a girl who added a cool twist on the California Mission Project all 4th graders in the state are required to complete.

Move gradually from 2D to 3D.

Have your students sketch out their ideas in multiple perspectives on paper before they start designing in Tinkercad.

It is even possible for students to import their hand-drawn images or vectors they found online into Tinkercad. Here's how. Making mazes is a really fun way to try out this technique.

Explore online 3D galleries.

The Tinkercad gallery is a great place to start.

Another awesome website to check out is Thingiverse, which is dedicated to the sharing of user-created digital design files. This collection is easily searchable, and many of its files can be downloaded and then uploaded into Tinkercad for modification without any licensing issues. This is a great resource for Tinkercad beginners to use for analyzing designs, hacking together objects, or building upon creations that others have developed.

Watch videos made by Tinkercad enthusiasts.

Plenty of classroom teachers who use Tinkercad publish screencasts for their students online. For example, this video is a great tutorial made by an art teacher that illustrates how he guides students through the process of making a realistic-looking Japanese mythical beast by fusing together pre-existing models from Thingiverse in Tinkercad. This technique can also be applied to several other ideas referenced in this Instructable.

In watching the video, you will notice the teacher uses SculptGL, a free digital sculpting web app, to manipulate the design he creates in Tinkercad. As you can see, students can easily import their design into this program to smooth out edges or add additional effects and then export them out and back into Tinkercad again for adding finishing touches like a base.

However, if this sounds arduous to you, maybe you are ready to graduate to Fusion 360, which enables users to design and sculpt in the same place - making even more professional looking products. But in the meantime, as the video demonstrates, this is a pretty convenient workaround for those of you who are just getting started.

Step 4: Rally Together a Team!

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That last step got you thinking about chimeras. Or maybe it was chimeras. Weird, right? Maybe you are an English teacher imagining a unit on Frankenstein, or a history teacher whose students really love mythology, or a science teacher planning a classroom debate about the ethics of crossing species boundaries.

Or a grade-level team co-planning a sci-fi unit: Could your students write a story about how the chimera they invented could serve humanity - maybe as part of a mission to colonize Mars? Here are some major benefits of approaching 3D design in this way:

Make learning more connected while galvanizing your teacher team.

Teaching 3D design opens up a world of interdisciplinary connections and real-world applications for you and your students. You might further take advantage of this opportunity by getting your students’ teacher from another content area or a specialist they work with to join you on this adventure. This works best for middle and secondary teachers when their students all share the same or at least one other teacher. This could also work in elementary schools in which students spend chunks of their weeks with specialists like librarians and art teachers.

Save time. Leverage each other's strengths.

By getting another teacher involved in the project, you will save both class time and planning time if you co-design, co-teach, and even co-assess the project in your separate classes. This also opens doors for teachers who are apprehensive about technology use, because one teacher can take on the technical aspect of the project, while the other focuses more on the teaching of research, problem-solving, writing, or presentation.

Build community partnerships.

If you are unable to find allies at your school, you might also consider reaching out to a local college to see if there are tutors available to assist in your class for a few days as you are warming up. Who knows - they might have so much fun working with your students that they want to stick around for the duration of the project!

Step 5: Manage Your Classroom for Making

Adding 3D design to your teaching repertoire will no doubt lead to more open-ended and student-centered learning. But let's be real: You're still worried about time... Also, the open-ended-ness - that's actually a little worrisome too.

Instead, try to focus on how learning 3D design will increase your students' agency as they realize that they actually CAN solve problems. In the real world. Now. Not just on a worksheet. Watch the video at the start of this step to see powerful evidence of students taking ownership of their learning.

It's true: Making space - including time - for students to play around and explore the Tinkercad tutorials before starting the actual project definitely leads to more positive outcomes. So think carefully about your objectives and be strategic in front-loading your instruction before you begin the project, if this is still a major concern. But also relax and enjoy the experience. You will probably discover that the learning that you didn't plan for might be the best part! Here are some other tips:

Don't overthink it!

Have an idea for the first project? Don't get bogged down in the details of writing instructions. Just have your students focus on meeting the criteria in your rubric and watch how they innovate. (BTW, see Step 9 for a great example of a maker-centered rubric.) Do you struggle with the hands-off approach to teaching? Read this.

In addition, the Tinkercad website features many step-by-step, no-fail lessons and tutorials such as:

Make a Ruler

Make a Robot Figure

Make a Clock

Most Tinkercad lessons can be completed in less than 45 minutes, and there’s really something for everyone. Our projects and lessons cover a variety of STEAM topics (we love ART too!!!) Instructables is also a great place to look for lesson ideas.

Get your students collaborating.

For the large, more complex design projects, a great way to cut the time for completion is to make it more collaborative. This approach serves many purposes:

  • teaches students about project management skills
  • develops critical 21st century skills
  • cuts costs and time - not every student is printing an individual design

Here's an example: If students are designing a board game meant to illustrate key events leading up to the Civil War, one student might be working on historical research, while another is writing the instructions for the game, and a third student is making the board, while a fourth is designing the pieces using Tinkercad. After exposing all students to Tinkercad, then you could ask students to choose their role within the team based on their personal preferences. Students can also work together on the same design using Tinkercad.

Keep the focus on process not product.

The beauty of maker education is what students gain from making mistakes, experimenting, and flexing their minds to new possibilities and ways of doing things. If students are encouraged to be open and reflective about their learning throughout the project, then they are more likely to find intrinsic value in it regardless of the time restraint. Don't believe this? Read about how constraints, such as time, actually make people more creative.

Step 6: Assign a Project - and Watch Where Students Take It!

One of the many cool features of Tinkercad that was designed for teachers in mind is the ability to set up a classroom, invite students to join, and assign projects. This is also how you will collect their work - for providing feedback and also for printing. Here's a step-by-step tutorial video that will teach you how to set up and manage a classroom within the program. This video also explains how this feature works for students under the age of 13.

Feeling adventurous now that your class is cruising? Electronics lab features are now available within Tinkercad, including circuit assembly shapes that can make your students' creations glow and move!

Step 7: Transform Your Classroom Culture

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If only non-teachers knew how many hats you wear each day! You aren’t JUST a math or a social studies teacher (or both), but - among many other things - you are also a community manager who must create a learning environment that embraces culture and provides students with a safe space for taking intellectual risks.

Tinkercad can be a great sandbox for exploring new ideas for organizing a classroom. It is also an empowering tool for students to bring elements from their outside world into the learning environment in positive ways.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Map an ideal classroom design


A classroom is a fascinating microcosm of the larger world and offers students the chance to to be co-creators with you. Using Tinkercad, students could create a model of the classroom, working together or individually to design the most ideal layout - rationalizing their decisions based on how they learn the best and what they hope for in terms of learning outcomes.

This is a great way to introduce the idea of design parameters and to brainstorm solutions to constraints. You could emphasize the development of math skills by requiring attention to the dimensions of the room, the measurements of the furniture, and other unchangeable physical features.

If done at the onset of the year, this is a great community-building activity that could help you learn a lot about your students’ hopes, while sending the message to them that you care about their input.

Recreate a family memory


So you already know your students well, but how about their families? This tends to be a trickier challenge, particularly when circumstances like jobs and home language might get in the way of your students’ caregivers being as involved in school life as they’d like to be. One way that teachers can “invite” families into the classroom who may struggle to be there physically is by making them and their personal history part of the curriculum.

Assign your students to interview their parents or grandparents about a memory that includes a physical object that is no longer with them, such as a favorite childhood toy or a special household item like a nicknack, a kitchen appliance, or a long-gone piece of furniture. Then your students can recreate this object using Tinkercad. How sweet would it be to print the finished product to bring home for a loved one?

Step 8: Share Your Students' Work

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Now that your students have made some amazing designs, they will definitely want to share them, and there are many benefits to doing so:

  • creates learner agency
  • helps learners revisit their work, integrate feedback, and improve future work
  • provides an opportunity to have their work affirmed and recognized
  • it's just fun to show off!

If you have access to a 3D printer, this is obviously a great way for displaying the final products - especially if you are able to create a temporary physical gallery to allow students to show off their hard work and also celebrate the work of their classmates. Here are a few pointers on sharing...

Check in with students throughout the process... not just at the end.

You know that it always best to have students share their drafts with you and their peers for review and critique while they are working on projects. Teaching 3D design is no different, and Tinkercad helps facilitate this through allowing your students to share their drafts with you and with each other. This video clearly illustrates how to integrate the following three practices into project-based learning:

  • Build assessment into the project flow
  • Create chances for self- and group- assessment
  • End the project with a product or performance

Check out this video again too if you are still not sure how to to share designs in Tinkercad.

So what if you don't have a 3D printer?

Not an issue at all. Sharing to design galleries on Tinkercad and Thingiverse will enable students to instantly become part of a vibrant community of creators and makers. As part of publishing in this way, you could also assign students to write a complete description of their process and inspiration in the summary section.

One system you might use to collect and share work - if you are going this route - is to create an online form for students to fill out with their names, a link to their project's url, and whatever other information you want to collect. You could even share a link to the corresponding spreadsheet with your students, so that they may easily view their classmates’ final products and applaud their designs in the comments section.

Another way for students to share their designs is through taking screenshots in multiple angles, which could then be inserted into the word document that contains their written commentary. If you have access to a traditional printer, you could also print these documents on paper for display.

Step 9: See What Students Learned

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So your class is having a blast with 3D design - great! Now how do you know they're actually learning? Assessment is always a difficult part of project-based and maker-centered education. One fantastic example of a maker-centered rubric we've seen is this Sample Rubric by Lisa Yokana.

Step 10: Get Connected With the Larger Community of Makers!

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Well, you've already mastered part of this step... Keep exploring Instructables for more cool ideas and inspiration!

Be sure to connect with kindred spirits who can provide both technical support and encouragement - either at your school or in the wider community of makers. The blog post Community Resources in Your Backyard to Start Making is a great place to begin building your circle of resources.

Once you get started, you will definitely want to learn more and also to discuss your learning with a wider network than might be available at your school or even in your region of the country. Here are some other sites you should check out:

  • MakerEd: for its resource library and PD opportunities
  • The Teachers Guild: for its collaborative community of teachers, coaches, and partners
  • Thingiverse: for its lesson plans and teacher groups
  • Hackaday: for its contests, projects, and online spaces to collaborate and show off work
  • makerspaces.com: for its blog and catalogue of ideas for making

Although you might feel like an outlier now, 3D design and making are bound to play a larger role in education in the years to come, so pat yourself on the back for being on the leading edge!

Hey, let's start the conversation by posting some feedback about this Instructable in the comments below. Did we forget something that you're worried about? What's your first project idea?

Go make something awesome!

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Bio: Tinkercad is a free and easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. Tinkercad allows anyone to imagine anything and then design it in ... More »
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