Introduction: Getting Started With Tinkercad: Geometric Shapes and Toy Design

About: Educator, maker, librarian, and Director of Community and Instigator of fun at Makey Makey! I love making and creating all kinds of stuff, but am particularly obsessed with circuits and physical computing!

I love Tinkercad and I've introduced it to many students over the years! One stipulation I've always had for students who want to use the 3D printer is that they need to design something themselves! Tinkercad is a great way to get students started in remixing and hacking 3D designs into their own ideas! For this project, I wanted students to build from the ground up.

A great small project to start kids with Tinkercad is to have them design small toys for a gumball machine. Josh Ajima shared this idea with me as a way to pay for filament! The idea is that the gum ball machine would be at the front of the school and contain all student created 3D designs. Read Design Make Teach (aka Josh Ajima) great post about the concept here. (Digital Harbor Foundation also has some great ideas for scaling in Tinkercad specifically for putting in gumball machines.)

To begin my students on their 3D design journey, I combined their most recent unit of study regarding geometric shapes.

My challenge to them was simple, yet engaging and challenging.

"Design a toy using at least 3 of the shapes from your unit of study. (Shapes include: cylinder, pyramid, cube, sphere, cone)"

Using only these shapes from the menu, made my students learn more about 3D design and piecing shapes together then when they could use any shape in Tinkercad. For beginners, it can be helpful to limit their palette!

If you need to close the design constraint a little more, you might consider having the challenge be specifically to design a "spinning toy top" or a "Maker Coin" which would be a great collector's token for the gumball machine! (If you don't know what a Maker Coin is check out this video.)


  • Tinkercad accounts
  • Google Sign-in Instructions
  • Manipulative shapes
  • 3D Printer (optional)

Step 1: Layer 2D Shapes and Tinkercad Tutorials

To get my students creating toys with at least 3 of the shapes from their unit of study, we examined how a 3D print is made layer by layer. Students drew a design with the shapes they wanted to use and then attempted to build this design layer by layer with some 2D shapes. Building models with 2d shapes is a great way to help students understand the layering concept of a 3D print! I also took this time to explain the X, Y, and Z axis and how this is used to create a 3D print.

Once students attempted a shape, they logged into their Tinkercad accounts by using the Google SSO Sync and I asked them to go through the tutorials. I modeled using the tutorials to show them how they could articulate Elvis, and that generally got them motivated to go through all the tutorials at their own pace.

Step 2: Tinker, Print, Iterate

Once students finished with the tutorials, they began designing toys with geometric shapes in Tinkercad!

You may decide not to print every student design or you may want to set parameters for how much work needs to be done in Tinkercad before you will print a student's design. (That filament is expensive! That's why you want to use the gumball machine sales to fund your filament!) Come up with a set of rules that works for you and your students.

When students had a toy they thought was ready for selling in a gumball machine, I would print it and they would redesign and iterate as needed.

Note: I held the floodgates to 3D printing. If you can train a few students to do this for you, it would be ideal, but that isn't always possible. Generally my best 3D modeling students were the experts I relied on to give other students tips and pointers before printing! Let those 3D design experts shine by helping others!

This challenge is a super quick and fun project idea I used as great way to introduce 3rd -6th grade students to Tinkercad! (And it would probably work for older students too!)

If you like this concept and use it in your classroom, let me know in the I Made It section below.

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