Introduction: Spinners Lab: Teaching Physical Science and 3D Design in Middle School

About: NBCT Teacher, Maker, Grower, Gamer - School Librarian and Coordinator for "Make It...Awesome!" GMS Makerspace and Gardenspace, Seaperch Coach, Girls Who Code Mentor

What's the best way to promote 3D design and printing in school? Through collaboration in the classroom. As a librarian, I regularly work with classroom teachers to support their instructional goals. When I was asked about helping with a fidget spinner lab in 8th grade Science, I knew this would be a great opportunity to incorporate design thinking, 3D modeling and printing, and some maker magic into the Science curriculum. As this activity was planned for the 2016-2017 school year, at the height of spinner mania at our school, we knew it would be an exciting activity for our students with lots of potential impact for our maker library programs.

Step 1: The How and Why of 3D Design

Using the Science classroom, we wanted to show students that 3D design fits into a broader world of engineering, art and animation. We also needed to introduce Tinkercad as the design tool ( that students would use to craft their creations. These screencast videos were created to share with students.

Step 2: Designing a Spinner in Tinkercad

To start the lessons, each student group would need access to a spinner. Because of the lab activity to come, we wanted to start with a similar design, so all students were asked to design the same spinner. Once students created their designs, we printed them on the library's Imade3D Jellybox printers. In all, we printed hundreds of spinners to support this lab. The good news, is that a simple spinner can be printed in about an hour, so we could often average 15-20 a day on our two Jellyboxes!

Materials needed:

3D Printer and Filament

Skateboard Bearings

Time needed (Block scheduling):

One day to design

Two days for the lab

One day for Spinner extras (optional)

Step 3: Head to the Lab!

Once students had their spinners in hand, we were able to share their lab assignments. This included descriptions of their spinners, recording data of their spinners in action, then data visualization and analysis of the results (see "Spinner Lab" document). This document was a collaboration of the Science teacher and myself as we considered the Physical Science's curriculum and Virginia's Standards of Learning for the class. We focused in on Standard 10 in particular: "The student will investigate and understand scientific principles and technological applications of work, force, and motion." (VDOE)

Step 4: Spinners 2.0 Challenge

As the lab ended with students' results, many immediately wanted to go back to Tinkercad to work on a new design and attempt to get better results. Some wanted to reimagine the bearings, others wanted to add weight, length, or number to the spokes of the spinners. We held an after-school maker challenge for best design and function. Some were original creations and others were inspired by things found on Thingiverse.

Step 5: Spinners 3.0: Moving to Fusion 360

Some students with a bit of design experience saw limitations in using Tinkercad for their designs as they became more complex. We offered an introduction to Fusion 360, free for students and educators, but a much more sophisticated tool, for those students interested.

Step 6: Spinning to 3D Success

At project's end, the collaboration that we made in the Science classroom took our maker programs from impacting dozens of students at our school to hundreds. We were able to teach 3D design to hundreds of students during the project. From that point on, students were invited to interact with the 3D design tools in the library whenever they chose. For the rest of the school year, our two Imade3D Jellyboxes were busy printing spinners and much more.

Positive Outcomes:

Students had a Tinkercad account and knew how to use the tool.

Students knew how to create an .STL file on their own and send it to our shared network to be printed in the library.

Students knew that they could use 3D design to support their educational needs and personal interests.

Students had another great reason to visit the library and see it as a valuable resource in their lives and a source of inspiration, collaboration and innovation.

Teachers began to see how 3D design and printing may become useful to impact student learning and how the library can support their instructional goals.