Sunday, September 28, 2014

Personal Design Challenge

Last week I found myself looking for a solution to hang up student artwork in our art display case. What came from this was a perfect example of a design project that I am now going to use in my class.

Who said necessity is the mother of invention? 

The Problem
I needed to hang artwork on some glass display shelves. These shelves are perfect for placing objects on, but not great for displaying student art work on various types of paper. The question I wanted to solve was, "How can I create hanging clippy things for student art work?"

In this step I took a look at the shelves, measured the shelf thickness, and thought about some of the qualities in a clip that I would like. It needed to be reusable and it needed to have enough tension in the clip part to hold a single piece of paper. One other design feature that it needed to possess is that it wouldn't distract from the purpose of the clip: displaying artwork.

I checked out Thingiverse and found several paper clip designs, and took note of a couple that used a curved shape to the clip to keep tension.

Generating Ideas
This is where the pen hit the paper. I took my measurements of the shelf thickness, and in a few minutes, came up with a few sketches of what I thought would make a decent clip.

My go to design software is Sketchup. Its free and is amazingly robust for 3D modelling. I created a simple rectangle, and then used the pencil tool and the arc tool to create a 2D outline. I decided a thickness of 20mm would be about right. The colour I chose for the clip was 'white' to help the clip blend in with most paper we use in art class.

Prototyping and more Protoyping
From Sketchup I exported my model to and .STL file. Having an .STL file plugin is essential to making this process work, and its dead simple. Find out how to here.  I warmed up the Makerbot, fed in some white filament, and waiting 26 minutes for a single clip to be printed.

The tension on the paper wasn't up to snuff with the first design, so I had to beef up the curved part of the design. 20 minutes later the new design was tested and worked awesome!

Mass Production?
I setup the Makerbot to print as many of these clips as possible on the platform. Turns out 28 of these bad boys can fit on the bed at once. I know more could have fit if I had positioned them differently. 9 hours and a few minutes later, the clips where done!

Students came in the next morning to see that my clips were all done and asked about the time it took to print. Comments like," wow, that took forever," and, "why didn't you just buy them" came up. All valid points. I responded by telling them that I might have found something at Staples or another store, but the clip would not have been a perfect fit for the shelf. I could have also ordered them online, but that would take days or weeks. I have perfectly custom clips in 9 hours. No manufacturing costs, no molds to have made. The manufacturing chain that would normally take weeks for a product like this is now extremely short!

Connecting Students to Design Problems
While 3D printing is amazing, and can be a solution to many design problems, let me be very clear that 3D printing is not, and should not, be the be all, end all, of your program. 3D printing takes a lot of time! Teachers will find themselves with hours of backlogged printing to do (believe me, I've been there!) The focus of my program is for students to take on design challenges, to solve problems and do it with access to many different tools. DO NOT GET BURNED by sinking your entire class into a 3D printing project. My students will not be told they have to 3D print a solution to their design challenge. They can use hand tools, cardboard, exacto knives, the machines in the shop, our laser cutter, etc. to prototype and make their designs a reality.

The design challenge I am now posing to my students is:

"How can we design something that solves a household problem for someone in our life?"

The challenge is huge and overwhelming and yet simple all at the same time. I have purposely setup the challenge so students create something for another person on purpose (check out my post on the Wikiseat Project). I can't wait to see what things my students come up with!

Sharing Designs and Knowledge
Openness is very important when designing. Great designs that are shared can be improved upon again and again through community. I have created a CLHS Design account on Thingiverse, and will be posting student projects and files on the site to contribute to the maker community. Stop by in a few weeks after our first projects are online!

If you want to check out the clip design on Thingiverse, I published it for others to see, download, modify and print.

Friday, August 29, 2014

3D Models to iBooks Author

Welcome back everyone! I hope this year is going to be a great one!

This is a quick post. I hope.

The Inspiration
After spending an amazing week in San Diego at the Apple Distinguished Educators Global Summit I really wanted to use iBooks Author as a tool for students to document and share their learning. It's so much more engaging and interactive than other methods.  

The power of the software is that students are now the authors of their own content and have a HUGE amount of flexibility in what that looks like. The finished products will also serve as exemplars for future students in my multimedia class. 

The Classroom Need
We use Sketchup a LOT in my Multimedia a Design Studies class, and I've always wanted students to have a way of sharing their models in a meaningful way. We usually use screen shots from Sketchup to share our models, but iBooks author has blown me away. 

Full disclosure, this is not a new process,  iBooks author has always handled 3D files call .dae files, but what's awesome for my class is figuring out that Sketchup can easily export these files. This is also not new but I'm excited because it's new to me!

The WorkFlow
I tried it today with a low poly mammoth model from Thingiverse . To import it into Sketchup you need an STL importer plugin which can be downloaded from Trimble's website. Installation is a breeze from the Preferences menu. 

From Sketchup I exported the mammoth files to a .dae file that iBooks Author likes. 

I then dropped in a 3D Widget into my test iBook and I chose the mammoth.dae file and it worked great! The 3D model was fully interactive in Preview mode in iBooks Author!

Uses in Other Classes and Hiccups

I see this being very useful in many classes, not just Multimedia and Design. Students could access any Thingiverse .stl models, and design immersive 3D environments in Sketchup for say, a unit on ancient Greece, illustrating the life and times of Greek civilization. These environments could then be exported as a .dae file and brought into a iBook as part of their project. The pros of having so many 3D files at the fingertips of students on Thingiverse or even the Sketchup Warehouse is that they don't necessary have to spend a ton of time with modelling it themselves, and can focus on the content and outcomes in the curriculum and analyzing how life in an ancient time might have been like. 
For my class where understanding, creating and presenting 3D objects is in the curriculum, we will focus on construction in Sketchup.

One thing I would caution is using models with a large polygon count. You might find that complex models with a lot of curves, and bumps will take a long time to import into Sketchup, or may even crash Sketchup. This temple took about 15 seconds to import for example. The Gnome model was so complex I had to force quit Sketchup because there were just too many polygons making up his body. 

There are ways to smooth models before importing them, but that's another post on its own. 


I'm excited to see how my students will use this workflow to share their learning of 3D modelling techniques with iBooks Author.

All the best everyone! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Narrative Care Project

 This week my student broadcasting class is moving on to an exciting project called The Narrative Care Project. This project connects my students with senior citizens in care a our local senior care facility.

The students have been given the challenge to answer the following essential question: "How can we use music as a catalyst to evoke memories and how can we preserve these stories?". The ideas for this project came from a program in New Brunswick, Canada where university and high school students have been working to document the stories of seniors. 

It's a huge undertaking. Working with our school counsellor, we have presented them with the challenge and have had several classes where we have asked students to brainstorm and develop a list of thing they need to know and things they need to do. The list is quite extensive.  Students have done lots of research about what 'preserving memories' might look like, and we have agreed to use video of the seniors to make iBooks for each of the seniors, with an iPad being left at the seniors home for everyone to access, and DVD and other digital copies of the videos being made available for family members.

We recently spend an afternoon at the care facility where students were introduced to the senior they are going to be working with, as well as members of the seniors' families. The kick off visit was a huge success! My students were treated like family members by the seniors who started sharing so much about their lives

What is most rewarding and exciting about this project is that it is rooted in empathy. My students are truly going to understand and value the experience they have because they can take pride in not only making a final project for a class, but something that will be treasured by the seniors and their families for years to come. Hopefully at the end of the project students will truly appreciate how things were different when their partnered senior was growing up, and how many things are still the same. 

On the equipment side of things, there is also a challenge for myself and for my students. We are going to be using iPad minis to record, edit and share the video content for each senior's iBook. We're going to use our existing mics and rotolights with the iOgrapher case for the minis. I really want to challenge my students to use the minis to their fullest capacity with video.

Photo source: http://

One side note that is interesting is that I have also connected with a senior in the facility and I had a wonderful chat with her about her family. I'm looking forward to doing the project along side my own students!

Has anyone out there used iPads for documentary style interviews? I would like to connect and share ideas about which apps worked well for them!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Prototyping and More Prototyping

This originally started as an outline for a post last year that never materialized and now is very relevant again this semester in my multimedia class.

Students in multimedia this semester will have more choice than ever before. After completing two compulsory modules (one to learn about Photoshop and the other the basics about Illustrator), students will then get to pick from 6 modules depending on their interest, and complete 4 of them.

The Idea
One project that I'm really excited about right now is a design project where students will design their own speaker enclosure for an mp3 device. I'm ordering mono speaker kits from a supplier which will allow students to solder together all of the electronics and then design the enclosure.

Students will sketch, prototype from cardboard, make mistakes, and do it all over and over again until they create a speaker enclosure that is uniquely theirs, all the while blogging about their work. In the ned they can make it out of wood, cardboard, acyclic sheets, or even recycled materials they've found around the house.

The kits have been ordered from a supplier in the UK call Kitronik. If anyone knows where I can get these kits in North America PLEASE let me know!