Introduction: How to Teach Math Using Tinkercad and Fusion 360

Picture of How to Teach Math Using Tinkercad and Fusion 360

Hello and welcome! You're probably reading this because you're curious about how to use 3D design in your classroom. Great! Whether you're a 3D modeling expert or have never touched the software in your life, this Instructable will teach you the fundamentals of using Tinkercad and Fusion 360 3D design software.

Why is it beneficial to integrate tools like 3D design into the classroom?

We all know that today’s students are the leaders, thinkers, and innovators of tomorrow. As a teacher, you have the unique opportunity to introduce relevant content and key concepts in new and exciting ways that help your students develop important skills like design thinking, problem solving and critical analysis. Not only is 3D design really cool, it's also a high-demand skill that can lead to STEAM careers in fields ranging from constructing the world's tallest skyscrapers to designing virtual reality environments.

Ultimately, we hope that 3D design will give you a new tool in your teaching arsenal and unleash a world of innovation, creativity, and curiosity in yourself and your students.

Ready to get started? Here's a fun little video to help you begin imagining the possibilities...

Step 1: What Is 3D Design Anyway?

At its most basic, 3D design is the creation of an object which has three dimensions (height, width, depth). The output of 3D designs can range from skyscrapers to electric cars, even an animated character you might see in a Pixar film.

Historically, students would have needed to take a special class to learn about 3D design. Today, with software and the growth of 3D printing, the process of advancing from an idea in your head to a physical object in your hand can now be achieved in a matter of minutes or hours, versus weeks or months. Rapid prototyping allows for testing of hypothesis, evaluation, and making necessary corrections early on in the design process saving valuable time, resources and money. This revolution is transforming the fields of manufacturing, entertainment, engineering and so much more.

Not only is 3D design a great entry point to a variety of STEAM fields, but the skills students develop directly relate to math proficiencies including the ability to:

  • Understand and manipulate fractions
  • Name and classify shapes
  • Understand and manipulate angles
  • Explore transformations
  • Work with and convert units of measurement

The 3D design tools we’ll be discussing in this Instructable include Tinkercad, Fusion and 3D printers:

Step 2: Teaching Math Concepts Using 3D Design

3D design tools enable students to visually and tangibly experiment with a variety of mathematical concepts. To give you a sense of what this looks like in practice, here are a few concepts you might explore with your students using 3D design, categorized by grade and Common Core Math Standards:

Kindergarten

  • Identify and describe shapes (

    CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.G.A).

    For example, using Tinkercad, "Can you place a sphere next to a cube?"

  • Analyze, compare, create and compose shapes (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.G.B). In Tinkercad, use two pyramids to create a shape with six corners.
  • Describe and compare measurable attributes (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.MD.A). Use Tinkercad to create an object and then describe its measurable attributes.
  • Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.MD.B.3). Use Tinkercad to create two categories of objects, then describe how each category is different and count the number of objects in each category (ex: 3 red cubes and 2 blue spheres).

Elementary

  • Reason with shapes and their attributes (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.G.A). For example, using Tinkercad, "Can you create three different objects with the defining attributes of a cube?"
  • Reason with shapes and their attributes (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.G.A). For example, using Tinkercad, "Can you create a sphere that is 1/2 red and 1/2 blue?"
  • Reason with shapes and their attributes (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.G.A). For example, using Tinkercad, "Can you partition a shape into four equal parts, making each quarter a different color?"
  • Represent and interpret data (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.MD.B). For example, have students take measurements of a real-world object (a simple shape like a tissue box is a good start) and then create a 3D model of the object in Tinkercad using the measured dimensions.

  • Develop understanding of fractions as numbers (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.NF.A.1). For example, use a 3D printer to create the Beast Belly Fraction Game (pictured below). In this game, your students will use 3d printed tokens that represent various fractions to "fill the beast's belly" by creating a perfect 1 whole.
  • Geometric measurement: understand concepts of angle and measure angles (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.C.5). For example, in Tinkercad, "Can you rotate an object by 120 degrees?"
  • Geometric measurement: understand concepts of volume (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.C.3). For example, using Tinkercad, find the volume of a right rectangular prism by packing it with uniform cubes.

Navigate Planes & Axes

Practice Scaling & Dilation

Understand Angles of Rotation

3D Print a Modular Protractor

Beast Belly Fraction Game

Middle School

  • Understand congruence and similarity using physical models, transparencies, or geometry software (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.G.A) For example, using Fusion, create a model with parallel lines using the parallel constraint.
  • Middle school is a great time to begin project-based learning with 3D modeling. For example, a special unit on architecture could culminate with students designing and creating a 3D model of a building.

High School

  • Make geometric constructions (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSG.CO.D) and visualize relationships between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSG.GMD.B). For example, in Fusion, create a sketch of a 2-D object and then rotate it around an axis to create a 3D shape. What shapes can be made with this method?

A Note on Using Tinkercad Vs. Fusion

In the examples above, you'll notice that most concepts can be introduced just as well with Tinkercad as with Fusion, but a few concepts cannot. If your students are already 3D modeling pros, know that any concept mentioned above that references Tinkercad can also be taught using Fusion. This is not true in reverse. Some concepts - particularly those related to 2D-to-3D transformations - will require the more advanced functionality of Fusion 360 to introduce.

These differences don't always map perfectly to a standard progression of learning in the math classroom. For example, you may stumble across math concepts that can only be taught using Fusion, a program that is a bit too advanced for the average third grader. When this occurs, we recommend you stick to math concepts that can be introduced using the software your students are most comfortable with. Even for high school students, Tinkercad is the best place for beginners to start 3D modeling.

Step 3: ​See It in Action!

In this example, high school students use algebra and Tinkercad to design a theater.

In this example, a group of high school students used Autodesk Fusion360 to imagine, design and create a new way to propel a wheelchair

Step 4: Meet Your Tools

Most classes that incorporate 3D design will require a few basic materials, in addition to your choice of software and hardware. This step will help you determine which are best for your classroom.

Basic Equipment:

  • Laptop or desktop computers | Portable or stationary machines with enough processing power and memory to run 3D modeling software.
  • Mice | When 3D modeling, it is very helpful to provide traditional computer mice, which enable increased precision in controlling the software. Mouse pads are also useful.

3D Software

Tinkercad and Fusion360 are two pieces of CAD (computer-aided design) software that are free for educators and students (learn more about that here). These two products build on each other in terms of capability and complexity. Tinkercad is very easy to learn, COPPA compliant, and browser-based, which makes it an ideal fit for beginners and younger students. High school, middle school, and advanced elementary students may begin learning Fusion’s more advanced capabilities after mastering Tinkercad. Read our accompanying Instructable on How to Advanced Students from Tinkercad to Fusion for additional information.

Tinkercad

Tinkercad functions best when using the latest version of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (learn more about Tinkercad's system requirements here). You'll also need a good internet connection; we recommend opening and testing Tinkercad on several computers simultaneously to make sure your internet connection is up to the task before logging in with your full class.

Fusion

Because Fusion is a more advanced piece of software than Tinkercad, it can't run in your browser. Instead, you'll need to install it on each computer your students will be using. This can take a little more time and preparation than Tinkercad, but the tool is so diverse in potential applications that the setup time will be well spent. If in doubt about your school computers' ability to run this software, check out Fusion's system requirements here.

Here's a comparison chart to help you decide which software will be best for your students:

Hardware

3D printing is a great way to create quick, inexpensive, limited-run prototypes or one-of-a-kind objects. While having a 3D printer is not a requirement to teach or use Tinkercad or Fusion360, it does offer 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 ( for example, fractions)

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). If you don’t have access to a 3DP, don’t be discouraged; they often aren’t necessary for teaching key concepts in 3D design. That said, they are certainly helpful!

Step 5: Jump In!

Before you attempt to bring these exciting tools into your classroom, you'll want to spend some time exploring them yourself first.

First In Tinkercad...

If the technology is brand new to you, start 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.

...Then In Fusion

If you've mastered Tinkercad and are ready to move on to a program with more advanced controls, download and install Fusion. If you just want to try it out, you can opt for the free, full-featured 30-day trial. If you decide you want to stick with it, you can then get free copies for educational use here.

Fusion takes a little more time to learn than Tinkercad but there's no shortage of awesome online support to help you get started. We've listed a bunch of resources to get you started in the References section of this Instructable (Step 8).

Step 6: Explore Free Projects to Get Started

By now you've seen a few examples, played with the tools, and hopefully are brimming with ideas to begin incorporating 3D design into your math class. What you do next is up to you! You can use what you’ve learned to create lessons for your students from scratch, or start by using these or free projects. (Note: if you don't already have a Tinkercad or Fusion360 account, you will prompted to created one in order to access the projects):

Design a Soda Bottle Rocket

Introduction: In this project, students will design and print a nose cone and a set of fins to turn a soda bottle into a retro-rocket!

  • Beginner
  • Grades 3-12
  • NGSS Alignment: ETS1: Engineering Design; PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
  • CCSS Alignment: RI: Reading Informational Text; MD: Measurement and Data & Technical Subjects

Expected Student Learning Outcomes | Upon completion of this project, students will be able to:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Tinkercad
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Communicate mathematical knowledge and understanding of force and thrust
  • Perform abstract mathematical reasoning
  • Learn independently

Making Your Own Measuring Tools

Introduction: A machine shop, where any idea can become a reality, can cost millions and million of dollars. Still, the most important tool in the shop is the humble caliper...which costs as little as three bucks. Moving ideas between computers and the real world (and back and forth) takes understanding the relationships between physical objects...measurements! Design and measurements go hand and hand. So let's make the tools to help us make more tools!

  • Beginner
  • Grades 3-12
  • NGSS Alignment: ETS1: Engineering Design
  • CCSS Alignment: RI: Reading Informational Text; MD: Measurement and Data & Technical Subjects

Expected Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Tinkercad
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Learn independently

Anaheim Ducks: Build a Better Puck Challenge

Introduction: These easy, step-by-step Tinkercad lessons will guide you through the process of designing your own awesome hockey puck; designs that push performance and style to the limits. This lesson has two objectives: use the scientific process to increase the performance of the regulation hockey puck and to take artistic license of your design by adding graphics to your puck.

  • Intermediate
  • Grades 3-12
  • NGSS: ETS1: Engineering Design; PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
  • CCSS: RI: Reading Informational Text; NS: Number System

Expected Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Tinkercad
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Apply technology tools to solve problems
  • Learn independently

Build Your Own Space Station

Introduction: While the thought of living in space may seem like science fiction, as you read this the International Space Station is circling the earth at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting the earth once every 90 minutes. In this project, you will learn how to create a space station of your own.

  • Intermediate
  • Grades 3-12
  • NGSS: ETS1: Engineering Design; ESS1-3 Earth’s Place in the Universe; PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
  • CCSS: RI: Reading Informational Text; RST.6-8.9; MATH CONTENT.5.G.A 1; A.2; B.3: B.4; MATH CONTENT.7.RP.A.2.A

Expected Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Tinkercad
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Communicate knowledge of the International Space Station and its design
  • Apply technology tools to solve problems
  • Learn independently

Dremel Dreams: Water Filter

Introduction: Safe drinking water is something most of us take for granted, until we suddenly don’t have it. Drinking water supplies can be interrupted anywhere in the United States, and people in many parts of the world live without a reliable source of water that is safe to drink. Inexpensive water treatment devices have the potential to save thousands of lives. In this design challenge, students create a reusable water filter that can be used as a first step toward making water safe to drink.

  • Intermediate
  • 3D Printer required
  • Designed for Grade 9
  • NGSS: ETS1: Engineering Design
  • CCSS: ELA-LITERACY; RST.9-10.3; ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2; MATH.CONTENT.HSG.MG.A.1; MATH.CONTENT.HSG.MG.A.3

Expected Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Tinkercad
  • Prepare .stl files for 3D printing
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Communicate knowledge and understanding of effective water filtration
  • Apply technology tools to solve problems
  • Apply iterative design to solve problems and ensure their product meets specifications
  • Perform abstract mathematical reasoning
  • Learn in teams

Fusion 360: Design a 3D Printed Lampshade

Introduction: This Fusion 360™ training video will walk you through the steps to design a 3D-Printable lampshade for an off-the-shelf lamp cord. Once you have Fusion set up, this is a great (and relatively quick) introduction to some of the tool's most useful features. This tutorial will also give you the opportunity to dive into a few mathematical concepts that can't be introduced as easily in Tinkercad.

  • Intermediate (advanced experience in Tinkercad recommended before using Fusion)
  • Grade 8-12
  • No CCSS or NGSS defined

Expected Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Perform basic 3D modeling functions in Autodesk Fusion 360
  • Apply mathematical concepts and principles to take precise measurements in a 3D environment
  • Translate 2D sketches into 3D shapes by rotating around a central axis
  • Perform abstract mathematical reasoning
  • Learn independently

Step 7: Make Sure They're Learning

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. We're not experts in this area, so this part of the equation (pun intended!) we'll have to largely leave to you, but we've often found rubrics to be a great solution.

Although not specifically math-focused, one fantastic example of a maker-centered rubric we've seen is this Sample Rubric by Lisa Yokana:

Step 8: Helpful Resources & Links

Resources to get you started with Fusion 360:

Tinkercad Tips...

If you decide to use Tinkercad, here's a step-by-step tutorial video that will teach you how to set up and manage a classroom within the program.

More great articles about teaching math with 3D tech:

Have fun and thanks for reading!

We'd love your feedback! We are always looking to improve our work. If you have questions, suggestions or related resources to share, please post them below in the comments section...

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