In this WTFFF?! Episode, Tom and Tracy have found a great educational project for teachers and students. There is a lot of potential here for creating it into a larger lesson plan about time, geography, and of course 3D printing and 3D design. What they are talking about is creating a digital sundial, a little ironic considering sundials are analog by nature. Mojoptix, the designer, has great videos to walk students through the creation of this free file.
Listen to the podcast here:
Using 3D Printing in an Educational Project – Digital Sundial
You guys have been asking us for great projects, especially for educators, to use. And we found a seed of one. I think it’s a legit project; it could use some improvement, but it can be integrated into your curriculum if you are a teacher, or if you are a student looking to do a project at school, this is one that you can actually do now. You can make great improvements with it and incorporate it into a bigger lesson plan, so I think there is a lot of potential here.
What we’re talking about is creating a digital sun dial, which is amusing because sun dials are not digital objects. They are very analog. You’re talking about putting a post up, the sun makes a shadow, you mark every hour in the right position. This has existed for thousands and thousands of years, which is why it’s kind of cool that someone has decided to make a digital sun dial with 3D printing. It would have been hard to do it without 3D printing.
They came up with a way of creating an object that you put up at the right angle to the light. The light shines through it as it changes position over the course of a day, making light pixels in the shadow on a flat surface as the day goes by. Every twenty minutes. They couldn’t do it every minute; it took a lot to achieve what they did. It changes time every 20 minutes, so 9 am, 9:20 am, 9:40 am. And it’s displaying it in digital characters, like 10:00.
The thing about this is these are files that are available to download on Thingiverse for free and print your own version of this. It’s a kit idea in that it’s made with a mount that screws on to the lid of a glass jar, and then you would put some counterweight. They used screws, nuts, and bolts, but you could use washers or sand. It doesn’t matter. This thing extends and cantilevers out maybe 10 or 12 inches, and you don’t want it to fall over. Use some found objects, and combine it with the 3D printed objects.
I think it’s a great educational tool because it teaches students conceptually first of all about precise 3D printing because they are recommending to print it with 100-micron layer height. That is a very fine layer height, in order to get the detail needed to create the digital pixels so that you can read the numbers.
And you’re teaching about several different parts that go together. There are two pivoting joints on this. This is very smart because at different latitudes on the Earth—if you’re in Canada versus if you’re in Mexico—the sun is coming at a different angle toward the Earth. You need to adjust the angle of the sun dial so the sun is shining through at the right angle. So they have an articulated joint that you add a normal screw and bolt through, and you have parts that you’re printing that you have to fit together. That in and of itself teaches students about tolerances and how parts need to fit.
This company that created it is called Mojoptix. They have a great video here, but there are things we didn’t like about it. First of all, the host is great, pleasant, and amusing. He’s French, so he has a great accent, but he is speaking in English. Easy to understand. It’s a little long-winded, but there are some cool, fun graphics. There are characters and things that come in; it’s cartoonish behind him. He is standing in front of a green screen, so he has done a nice job on the video.
There are just a few things in the way that he processes that we don’t love. He is opting for coding versus CAD. It’s not the first time we’ve heard it. It’s strange because these files exist on Thingiverse, so you can just download and print them. You don’t need to recreate them in CAD.
But he goes through a process of educating the viewer about CAD while advocating that it’s easy to create objects by entering in code and using these commands, instead of a traditional CAD program where you are creating 3D geometry. Whatever your mind’s eye sees, you use intuitive tools to create it.
Students in general are not going to learn how to code for making 3D objects. I mean, some will. I have been to multiple meet-ups where someone says they code their CAD designs. I looked at them with such confusion. Why in the world would you do that? That says to me you have no artistic ability or ability to design something, and I think there is a great benefit to learning the design process as a part of this.
That’s what I want to advocate. If you’re going to bring this project in, great, download the file. It’s free. Check it out, see how it is, and understand the key components to what makes those digital pixels show up and what makes the angle work. But then create a part of the project where you allow for creativity. Think about it. For thousands of years, sun dials have been beautiful. They have been artistic, sculptural objects. Why shouldn’t this be also?
I think there is a great project in that for students that incorporates the art, engineering, technology, machinery, science, and astrology of it. You have a great STEAM project; you have covered it all. It encompasses everything. You get students to think about the realities of how different positions on the Earth, light hits it differently, and that’s why you need to adjust it so you learn about all these relative relationships of these bodies in space.
Think about the multiple tests you can run through where you try different things to see if it works or not. You can really try through a success/failure processing on the 3D printer, which is what it’s ideal for. You can teach them something about that as well.
I really think from an educator’s perspective, I hope that we have offered up a type of project that might be useful for you, and we are on the lookout for you every day. We are out there looking for these types of projects and are coming up with them for you. If you have some ideas, please tweet us or send us a message on social media @hazzdesign. Give us a comment in the show notes for this particular blog. We will have the video there and the links to the Thingiverse files.
Even as an educator, just playing that video of it or clips of it will help teach your students about some of these different concepts, but allow them to do it. They need to go further in creativity. Because they don’t have to reinvent the sun dial part of it, they can be creative and create their version of it.
If you use this project, let us know how it goes. Send us a video from your classroom. Send us pictures of objects that are created. We’d love to do an interface with your classroom; we are happy to get on a Google Hangout with your classroom and talk about the project. We’d love to hear and see what they do. Let us know if we can help you in any way.
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