Wednesday, January 12, 2022

small town life, page 3.

Valley Nebraska, where my father's store was located, was famous apart from being on the edge of Omaha and trapped between the Union Pacific Railroad lines and the Platte River. The Platte has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep, and that traverses the state of Nebraska from one end to the other. 

Valley is also the home of Valmont Industries, originally Valley Manufacturing, one of the early manufacturers of the circular irrigation systems that are in use throughout the world. 

Valmont, with an expanded product line remains a major employer. And so it was with many small towns in America. Small towns would grow from unique ideas that had a significant effect on the world at large. Educational policy makers attempt to standardize education and make all students look at things the same way, and teach all students exactly the same things, and we suffer culturally and economically as a result. We are led to ignore the value of things that grow large from small things. Instead of standardizing education, we'd do better  for ourselves and our kids by diversifying. The arts are one of the best ways to do that.

At the Clear Spring School this week with our group studying small business, I mentioned possible sale of woodworking kits, and I provided kits I'd prepared for building Soma Cube Puzzles from wooden blocks for our students to assemble. The students sanded and glued the blocks into the arrangement shown. The Soma puzzle consists of seven pieces, each consisting of 3 or 4 blocks representing the only 7 ways sets of 3 or 4 blocks can be arranged other than being in a straight line.

Concurrently, the core teacher got a 3 D printer for Christmas and is interested in learning its use. I am concerned that 3D printing of things not designed by the students can be a waste of time and talent, and of less educational value so we'll be using Tinkered software for the students to design objects that can be printed, and that reflect their experimenting with objects made of wooden blocks.

The experiment involves some interesting connections with educational sloyd. First start with the interests of the child. The kids love Minecraft, a game that involves pixelate creatures and landscape that appear as through they're made of blocks. In order to go from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract are two principles from Educational Sloyd. It's easy to build with blocks and thus experiment with pixelated designs. (And it's very easy for me to make lots of uniform wooden blocks). 

It can be difficult to learn and used 3D design software, so we'll use Tinkercad on iPads for the students to make designs reflecting their arrangements of blocks. Wooden blocks are concrete in that they have texture, and weight. Tinkercad is abstract. The finished, 3D printed objects will become concrete representations of student thought. And the play with blocks brings Friedrich  Froebel back into the 21st century classroom.

Make, fix and create.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Doug!

    I bought a 3d printer about a year and a half ago, with the aim to expand my skillset as a technician. Before Covid, I spent my days working in a prototype shop building small airplanes that were intended to have the wings fold, and be road-worthy. (terrafugia) We used 3d printers to help generate components for jigs and fixtures and such, and I was shocked at how versatile it was. And, disappointed but not surprised to find the shortcomings. Short version: great for making mating pieces that had complex geometry, not so great for articulation. And plastic isn't very durable, so it's best reserved for prototyping. Mostly, we used fancy modular t-track components to frame the jigs and set dimensions, and 3-d printed interface parts to help the compound curves on the carbon fiber parts get along with a more rectilinear frame. But compared to hand-fabricating jigs and fixtures like I did as a woodworker, it was MUCH easier and faster, and much easier to change and reprint a design. There were few things I hated more as a furniture builder, than coming up with a jig for a complex operation that *almost* worked.

    Back to 3d printing... My kids initially thought they'd inherited a toy factory. Because I was just trying to print things, to get used to the process of printing, I made them a lot of bookmarks and pokemon figurines, and other simple things. But after a while, they were no longer impressed. Kinda like a matchbox car that 'doesn't do anything' (No doors, trunk, etc that open, all it does is roll) monochromatic 3d printed figurines just don't have a sustainable wow factor. And the boys (6 and 8) got bored pretty quickly.

    That said, once I started making project parts that would be otherwise too complicated, like heads, hands, wings, etc, they started to get interested again. There are also 3d printing 'pens' that allow them to hand-customize the robotically created stuff, and that's been fun to explore. So it's become pretty clear that the printer's best use will be for parts or brackets for things that they can't fabricate themselves... or at least, not fast enough to hold their attention. The biggest obstacle now is my own CAD skills, because it's clear that no matter how many 'cool' things are available online to print, none of them will ever be as cool as making things out of legos, or doing some other kind of hands-on project. I need to be able to help them make project parts.

    As for me, I'm starting at BU next week, in mechanical engineering. At 48, I'll probably be the oldest student there. But among other things, I'm looking forward to learning more about how to use CAD to design things that can be printed out.

    I fully appreciate your concerns and misgivings about 3d printing. But I've been delighted to find that, as fancy as the technology is, kids are still kids. And they still have more fun making things by hand and problem-solving. There's definitely a 'gee whiz' component to 3d printing, but that wears off pretty fast. It's a good solution for problems that you otherwise would probably avoid as too labor-intensive, but it's never going to replace the thrill of imaginative creation.