As new technologies get embraced by the mainstream little-by-little, the demand for programs teaching the necessary skills to utilize these technologies rises. This is the case for 3D printing now. Tom and Tracy Hazzard speak to Mack Fixler and John Gomm of EduCraft, a summer camp program. This program, in particular, is specifically targeting a younger crowd because, of course, they will be the ones feeling the impact of this new technology the most. Is it time for your kid to get into 3D printing?
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3D Print Summer Camps with Mack Fixler and John Gomm of EduCraft
Today we are going to talk about 3D print summer camps and we are going to have an interview with EduCraft. They are at Santa Barbara, California. It is just a local organization that does summer camp steam and stem projects and they have a couple of 3D classes that they teach. Mack Fixler and John Gomm are a couple of great teachers who are teaching summer school in a sense, but in a totally fun camp way. They have been doing this for several years, and you will hear in the interview how they started and how they had certain 3D printers at first that gave them problems, and what they have kind of settled on. If you are interested in learning about 3D printing and 3D print summer camps, I think this is well worth looking into.
We are so excited to kick off summer and talking about 3D print summer camps with you. Thanks so much for joining us, guys.
Thank you so much for having us.
We are really interested as to how you guys started?
Four years ago, I was going to elementary schools and teaching kids about engineering using Legos. I was doing that for a couple of years and then I decided to defect and do it on my own and go down the path of robotics. I was then involved with my local hacker space and at that point, that is where I was introduced to 3D printing. I then said to myself that I must have camps that have 3D printing. It is a definite and fun hobby that I discovered.
That is an interesting shift from Legos to 3D printing. Our daughter here has the opportunity to do these STEM programs in her school, and they do this Lego thing. What I can’t figure out was what Lego building had to do with STEM. When we came to do 3D printing at home, she had really come into this bigger understanding of what it really means to look at it from a science, math, and in our case art standpoint. How did you use Legos and all of that to get started?
I think Legos are a great product especially at the surface level. It lets a kid create without any consequences. There is then a lot of great ways to do it. On a deeper level, there is a lot of mechanical systems that go behind it. There are gears, pulleys, gams, and all sorts of mechanics that you normally do not see because they are all into this kit mentality. But if you buy one of their more technique kits, you are then going to be exposed to those deeper thoughts.
It was the technique stuff that caught my attention. The axles, pistons, and all of it are just cool. I have this card that fits with an 8 cylinder engine where the pistons went up and down as you push it forward. It was fantastic. I use to make the catapults using the axles and gears. Lego is great especially in that you don’t use it up. If you build something, you can take it apart the next day if you have an idea for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It is a great aspect of a toy, and it is a great element in rebuilding.
You guys have the building idea. You guys dive in and build it first at your 3D print summer camps.
We always try it out and see how it goes rather than wait for three days in planning this out before we try and build anything. Our department here agrees to put something with a very brief concept. Not everything is a success.
That is a very good thing to keep your hands dirty, because that is what you want for kids to be doing, right?
Absolutely, because students look at their failures.
There is a significant number of classes here you have for the course of the summer. I wish this was in every town. You have 3D print summer camps, junior engineering, robotics, and all sorts of great things. How did you come up with these classes?
Right now, our registration is going and we are about halfway at this point. We typically have a lot of people who sign up at the last moment which is fine. When I first started, we started doing only circuitry and robotics camps. It just kept growing and growing after that. I brought on a person the following year after I did coding. It was our most popular class by a landslide. We had sold out every seat, and there was a waiting list for all of the classes. I then see it as a staple of EduCraft, and this is something that we have to offer every year.
We fragmented our classes this year a little bit, so this year we have a camp called Code Craft where in the course of the 5 days, they were doing graphical programming languages like Scratch, Tinker, and Tickle. On one day, we would give them a little exposure to a text based programming language like Python and Ruby, and have them build really simple unit converters or small calculators. This year, we decided to have flavored programming classes and that is where the Minecraft mod making comes along. We have another instructor named Mat who works with us and works at the same school we both work at. He is teaching all the Minecraft mod making, and his job was all the Minecraft 3D printing camps. A unit code is not a supercomputer project for a 10 year old.
Can this be for the older ones?
I often joke to parents that if they want to come along and learn 3D printing, we will teach them to 3D print. Adults are super enthusiastic and they really want to be right in there and drill down the stuff. The kids however do not want them there. The younger kids wants to show off their stuff, and the older kids are a little bit more shy.
Is it only a summer program that you do? Or is there an after school program you do during the school year that is similar to your 3D print summer camps?
There used to be an after school program. There was a lot of volatility in after school classes especially in the Santa Barbara area. Santa Barbara is very gorgeous so there are kids that do crazy sports. We found that the most stable time of the year for us is summer and that is where we put our effort and focus into. After school is one of those things that kids really don’t want to commit to.
It is a very good program that you know that the kids are happy learning something.
It is an environment which is not exactly school and so students come with a different IQ. There is no expectation of what the grades means for your future; it is just them being interested in the moment, which makes the attitude very different. Because you are building something pretty much every day that you can show off, I think the parents are going to like that feedback.
Do you do a project based project? Or do you do it in a task based one?
We really don’t see the difference. I think the project is a series of tasks that work towards a common goal. In short, it’s all about fast turnaround. The beauty of 3D printing is that you can think about something, spend an hour doing it, and then have it on a 3D printer. You can have it in your house before the end of the day. If you want to make a renovation of it tomorrow, you can. That gives you the intimate feedback that is really wonderful when it comes to making things. If it doesn’t get something in your hand within 3 hours of work, then you are not going to be able to keep a middle school student to be really focused on it.
How much equipment do you have for 3D printing and for your summer camp attendees? Do you have a lab of printers available to you?
We have six Maker Gear M2s which are beasts of a printer. The first year I did the camp, I had a whole grab bag of different printers. I had three Homebrew Cruise Eye 3s , two Prusas, a MakerBot, and I spent most of the time arguing with the printers in getting them to work and do the things I wanted. The camp was 3 hours. It typically had me staying there another 3 hours on both ends of it. It was a really frustratingly hard experience. The next year, I spent a significant amount of money buying brand new printers and they have worked tremendously. Our Maker Gear and M2s really worked really well. We have six of them for 16 students. These students were pretty good in putting their work together and putting things on the same build plates.
We had a really great queuing system set up so we had tons of micro SD cards. They load up their files into it and they tape it down to a sheet of paper with what color they want and what the file name is. We just pulled one off the paper, moved the plastic bag up, and just rinsing and repeating while everybody gets their prints.
On top of 3D printers, we have also used a 3D scanner. We used the structure sensor teamed up with the iPad. We were able to scan in everybody’s heads. One of the projects we do on our camp is that we scan into each student’s head and they have to take their head and stick it into a model that already exists. After which, we then 3D print it up, so you have a robot with your own head on it. The queuing system is nice because we think of the SD card and give it to the student, let them put it on the machine, and keep it going. After two days of camping, they were very happy loading the machine. It was super easy to change the filament on. It was super reliable. We haven’t got any problems with it with the calibration and stuff.
Last year when we did a summer camp, we made fix or six sessions of it. One of our printers went down for one day. The year before when we did it for the very first time, there was only one printer working at any given time. It was me who was running out frantically who was trying to level out all the beds. The Maker Gear really made our lives fantastic. We put research into figuring out what would be the best reliability of the printers. We spent a lot of time figuring that out so that we don’t have down time when students are around, because there is nothing worse than teaching a class full of students who are really enthusiastic and they are bugging you to do a print while you are trying to fix the printer.
Kids are not patient. I don’t know where they get the idea that kids are patient.
No, kids are always patient – haha. There is also this unrealistic expectation of how long a 3D printer should take because the StarTrek Replicator made life hard. And people compare it to a paper printer, they need to remember back to how it was in the ’80s when printers first came out. We also put on an 11 hour print on one of our students overnight.
Now, are you teaching them as much about CAD software and making models at your 3D print summer camps? Are they slicing their own prints and are they teaching them Simplify3D to be able to slice it? Or you guys are the one doing it for them?
We make sure that files are basically all set up. I am going to try to introduce a slightly more organic CAD. I think I am going to go with TinkerCAD. You can’t just go wrong in stuffing blocks and half domes, as it always comes out printable. Unless, they leave that tiny little gap between the two things and it pulls apart when they try to build it. They build that thing in Tinkercad and they export themselves, they put into Cura, they slice themselves, they put it up in the memory card, and they speed on the queue. When it is their time on the queue, they get a little memory chip and then we walk through the first few times while loading the filament and getting everything ready while pushing it to go. After a couple of times doing that, they do it all themselves. We just have to manage the queue and help them build up the software.
The very first year we did it, we did not use Tinkercad. Instead we used SketchUp. It was horrendous. SketchUp was a very powerful tool, but not in the hands of middle school students. To me, it is powerful but I still have to go in and tinker the heck out of it just to get the internal geometry to go away. The intersecting phases are just a hassle.
All these steps that they are learning in the process to go from an idea from their head to getting something to the printer must be tremendously valuable.
They are happy that they are making those things. These things are things that either did not exist before or they exist before or their version of that thing is their flavor. That object is one that gets made a lot and these are just simple blocks together. If you want curvy type objects then people wanted to make this a cool weapon. We have a hard rule that anything that looks like a weapon cannot be printed in black or white. It has to be printed in some outrageous color. If they want to make something because they just want to make something as opposed to its core effect, it is something that they are passionate about. If you don’t know how to push wax around to get it round, then you have to do something that is geometric. You are going to go for something that is nice and geometric that can be made out of flat sheet together.
I can’t complain in wanting to make knives, swords, and things. But I have to keep them safe. If something is a little bit too pointy, we will make it something to be less pointy before we print it. If they want to build something, we always ask them on how they are going to make it more fantastic. A lot of students want to go and download their favorite movie part or game part. Everyone just wants to print a portal gun. But we don’t just let them print things. They have to make it more fantastic and need to have some element of them in there, or else they would just get it at the store.
Are you guys getting a good mix between girls in your program at all?
It is pretty 50 – 50. It is also like a 60 – 40 split sometimes. I really have excellent girls and they have been sticking in my memory because they want to do really interesting things while some of the boys just fade away into mediocrity.
We have three daughters. The eldest is in college, and the youngest is 2 years old. They are very fascinated with the idea of customizing, which is why I found out that the girl’s vision for doing that has been tremendous with all the young girls that I have talked to about 3D printing. They get it really quickly. They just get that idea a little faster.
Boys wanted to create thing that kind of already exist in this geometric world, guns, rockets, explosions, or something that already exists. Being creative is not one of the things that they have been trained to do very well. In my own youth, I would probably do the same as what they do. These days I am a bit more creative. The one that that gets in the way with 3D printing is not the printing, but it is the CAD and the sculpting. Getting an organic sculpting type feel in a lot of the program is making the interface harder in 3D printing. If you try something that looks good, you will end up with something that is very difficult to fix with 3D printing. You can also use Z Brush.
We are really excited about summer programs and 3D print summer camps expanding. Here in Irvine, if I waited past 24 hours after the registration announcement for summer camp or some fun event, I would not be able to get my daughter in. People in Santa Barbara should be flocking to your class.
I don’t know if it is publicity or it is just the market in general. I don’t know what it is and we don’t know how to fix it, which is why we wanted to talk with you.
If you want to take a vacation in Santa Barbara, that really sounds good right now. Thank you for joining us.
It was a pleasure to meet you.
3D Print Summer Camps with Mack Fixler and John Gomm of EduCraft
I really need a vacation and I think that Santa Barbara must be in our summer plans. I also wanted to drop on their 3D print summer camps classes and see how the kids are learning with what they are doing. I think it is very smart with what they have done standardizing on an available free product that is easy to use by Tinkercad. I like that they are considering to upgrading to most advanced systems for their 3D print summer camps. I also like the approach that they are really teaching the whole process. When you get into these camp programs and when you dial in and start to investigate it as a parent, you find out that other 3D print summer camps just send them out and have them done.
That happens in various art classes all the time and they just send that part out and have it done. They are not really learning the whole process and not understanding all of that. But for EduCraft, it is the whole process. I love that they push to be more creative, which is really important.
It sounds like they are honing in their curriculum, process, infrastructure, and machines. It feels like it is a solid 3D print summer camps program. They are only doing it in the summer because they are teachers. If it was here, I would expect schools here to be clamoring for more after school STEAM programs. I bet that they could turn that into a year round full time business if they wanted to. These guys are teachers and they have their full time jobs. Doing after school programs is not that suggested because for them the sports scene dominates them out there. That is not surprising to a lot of areas in the country. But it is what it is.
I really like their ratio at their 3D print summer camps. It is about three students to each 3D printer. They are structuring projects so that you can print in a couple of 3 hours or less so they get some immediate satisfaction from the work that they are doing at a particular day, makes a lot of sense.
I hope you guys are thinking of gearing yourself up for a 3D print summer camps this summer. It is a great time for you to be learning 3D printing, and there are a lot of great uses to it. It is a lot of fun which is why you need to dive in. For those who think they have what it takes, then go for it! Go and do it with your kids. What is holding you back? You need to start somewhere and start having those successful failures. Like Mack and John said, they take on everyone. They take adults in their 3D print summer camps who wanted to sit at the back. Though the kids don’t like it, just join in.
This is one organization in Santa Barbara that is particularly focused on the summer camp portion. We have talked some in the past that local maker spaces are like academies. There are a lot of organizations doing this. There is also that my old art center in New York where I went to grade school and high school. It offers 3D printing now. To have 3D printing to be available at your local non profit art centers it would be great. There is got to be a program near you.
If you are taking a vacation on a long weekend, go to Santa Barbara and going up to a program that is closer to you. Check it out even if you cannot participate for a whole week or whatever the class period is. They run for a specific period of time and then they start again. This is a great thing to do with your kids. It is a great way of not only having fun this summer, but also getting to learn something.
If you guys are running 3D printing summer camps, feel free to shout out because we are going to retweet them and repost them for you via social media. If there are other summer programs, this is not a competitive situation because everything is so regional. This is cooperative. If there are other summer camp programs and you would like to get a little shout out or promotion, send it to us. While we are early on the summer here, let us think about that.
About Mack Fixler
Mack Fixler is the founder of EduCraft, a company that teaches STEM summer camps during the summer in Santa Barbara.
About John Gomm
John Gomm is the lead instructor for all of EduCraft’s 3D printing camps.
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