When we give kids credit for their creativity and trust them with the skills they learned from us, amazing things happen. Craig Frehlich witnessed this from his students. What’s more surprising is when his students were taught the design cycle of 3D printing, instead of designing plastic phone cases they thought of stuff that have more meaning, use and impact. He knows that it will just be a matter of time before their meaningful ideas evolve to a level of efficacy that will help people’s lives. Craig explains the two pieces of the their design process education that focuses on kid’s research.
This is Tom. Tracy is a little under the weather, so I’m taking this one solo. My guest is Craig Frehlich, who is a middle school and high school design teacher in Canada. He’s at a school called Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Canada. We got in touch over social media. Craig is one of these people that dove into 3D printing with his school that he works for. Like a lot of teachers, he was working on it in the beginning and had to do a lot more maintenance on some of the machines at that time. Over time, this program has gotten mature. What I was excited to learn when I spoke with him is that it’s not about getting into 3D printing. They are using 3D printing as a tool amongst a lot of other tools in an education program, which is the modern form of shop class but it is more than teaching kids how to use these tools and having them follow prescribed projects. They’re teaching an end-to-end design education unlike anything I have heard about at this level of middle school and early high school. It was very impressive to me and I hope you will enjoy it too. Let’s get right to my interview with Craig.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Design Cycle: Design Process Education Through 3D Printing with Craig Frehlich
Craig, thank you so much for joining me. It’s great to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be on.
I always enjoy talking with educators who have dove in and immersed themselves and dealt with all of the hard questions of curriculum, the tech, but especially when it comes to how to teach students. I’m always intrigued with that. I don’t think I’m a good teacher. I’m a good mentor and I’ve served that role a lot of times, but when it comes to building curriculum, I’ve never done that or even implementing one. I would love to hear a little bit about your story and how you got involved with 3D printing and also how you started with that at your school.
Many people who aren’t in schools don’t give kids enough credit. When we trust kids, amazing things happen, which is going to play out in my story. It was about two and a half to three years ago when our school ended up getting a decent amount of funding to start to build what we call a design program here. We were brainstorming with various teachers what that might entail, what’s it going to look like instead of a hodgepodge of duct tape and cardboard. There were many students also sitting in on this think tank. A lot of kids were excited to get 3D printers because they had seen some great stories on the news. What the kids were saying that they were excited about wasn’t printing phone cases. At that time, two and a half years ago in Canada anyway, a lot of the neat stories were coming out of the news about doing good things with 3D printing instead of printing trinkets or toys. That’s where our journey began was we were taken aback at the kids that sat on the committee were coming up with these neat ideas already that were meaningful and relevant instead of plasticky things.
Kids have their way of showing us what they’re thinking about, it’s often than not what we might expect they would think about. I don’t know why I’m surprised, maybe I shouldn’t be. Even with my own kids and others that I experienced how deep they get and thought over a lot of these things.
What we’ve seen or evolved that we’ve had 3D printers in the building is self-efficacy on the part of the kids. Like many schools, we have what’s called 20% Time. In some schools they call it Genius Hour. At our school, we call it Personal Projects. The kids get to do their own passion project per se and we’re getting more and more kids cultivating and wrapping their brains around 3D printing, doing stuff related to 3D printing. An example of that, we have a student who’s been 3D printing various iterations of fishing lures and then he’ll mold them and then cast them out of resin. We have another girl that made a shin brace for horses. She’s on a third iteration of that and is at a point where she’s sewing it in foam for the horse’s shins and stuff. It’s neat how you give kids an opportunity to sandbox. In other words, mold around and play and get a sense and pretty soon over time, they think of these meaningful, neat ideas.
Something you said right upfront was about this design program or design education. I would love it if you could define design as not only you see it, but as your school understands and teaches it. ’Design’ is a word that I find can mean very different things to different people in different disciplines. Can you help me out with what design means to you?
There are two pieces to what our design program is about at the school. One is, and the heart of it, is we call it the Design Cycle. It might be called Design Thinking in other institutions. For us, the design cycle is kids research. They ask big questions. They get to know if they have a client, what their needs are for their assigned client that they might be given. Then they move on to their planning phase. They’re thinking up what we call design specs for the product that they might make. Then they move on to iterating possible ideas, then narrowing down those ideas to one. They make a technical drawing of that one idea, then they move on to creating or making it. In our school, we might pause to teach them the proper skills needed for that. In our case of 3D printing, we would pause and teach them appropriate CAD skills. After that, they’ve created it. Then they evaluate how that went. Was it successful in the eyes of the client? How might it be improved? How does this impact society?
The Design Cycle is one piece to our design program. The second piece is what scope and sequence did we want to have at our school for the technical skills? In sports, students will get volleyball maybe in Grade 7 and they’ll learn a little bit more intermediate volleyball in Phys Ed in Grade 8. In Grade 9, in Phys Ed here at the school, they’re going to get volleyball again, but it’s going to look a little bit different. We wanted to have a scope and sequence. We decided that one of the streams or scopes and sequences would be learning them product design. They get a beginner product design project in Grade 7,a little more advanced in eight, and then in Grade 9. Robotic design is our other piece to our design programs. Those are our two umbrellas for technical skills. They learn coding and programming and robotics. They learn product design with 3D printers and we also have laser cutters.
Is this middle school or middle school and high school level?
We also have a Grade 10 program, which was added. It’s growing in popularity. Our administration said, “We need to keep adding more grades to this.” The hope is to even add a Grade 11. Parents and students are begging for more stuff like this. They got rid of, in Canada anyway, Shop Class long ago and it was a huge mistake. The kids are pining to make and create again.
I was fortunate enough to have Shop Class as I went through junior high and high school. I was in the state of New York at that time of my life and I could see in some of my younger siblings and cousins as the Shop Class went away the big difference. It’s so much needed. It’s great to see that these disciplines you’re teaching, the tools that you’re using, this is modern Shop Class. Not that there isn’t also great things to be learned by using subtractive, traditional Shop Class tools and machinery, there is. If this is the way that Shop Class comes back, using the excitement of this new technology, then it’s all good as far as I’m concerned.
Also less recipe-based. I can only speak for myself, but I remember my Shop Class and it was very recipe-based. You follow these steps and then you make a keychain holder or a shelf whereas, education and pedagogy has grown. Design class is about solving problems and hopefully if done right, you have a room full of huge variety in what was made to solve that problem.
I hear what you’re saying about the recipe-based and I experienced some of that as well. That’s natural depending on the teachers that are involved, but I always experienced, for myself anyway, that there was a lot of leeway given if I, as a student, had an interest in pushing it further and not following the programs, instructions to make whatever the widget was. I could push the edges and be a little more creative, but it certainly wasn’t taught that way. You’re teaching an end-to-end process of exploration and design. It seems like it may start with a little bit of an analytical approach with research and then you get into all these issues of creative thinking that is design in many ways, at least how I would see design. Then also touches on the technical skills, which using CAD or coding and things like that, which there may be creativity in there, but it’s also a much more finite learning experience where there are hard and fast rules.
3D printers are getting more reliable. When I first started in the first models I bought, they worked maybe 40% of the time. It was hard to do iteration with the kids because you were lucky to allow everyone in the class one print. Even then with the success rate only being about 40% because little things go wrong here and there. Now, I’ve got two newer models. A little more expensive and they’re successful 90% of the time. Kids are starting to be able to do what 3D printing was hopefully designed to and that is prototype and iterate. Version one comes hot off the extruder and the student looks at it, maybe gets other people’s eyes and they’re allowed now to go back to CAD, tweak a few things, and then pump out version two.
What kind of 3D printers did your program start with and what are you using now that it’s more mature?
The company is XYZ and they were da Vinci 1.0 printers. They were relatively inexpensive, which is what we needed to get into the market. To be honest, not to knock the company, I learned a lot. I had to replace some stepper motors. I got to learn how to do that. I had clogs in the extruder and I got to learn that part. It took trial and error and resilience and lots of phone calls to different maker spaces. After listening to lots of podcasts, including yours, my go-to printer that I suggest to other teachers around my circles is the CraftBot.
I don’t have experience with that one. I’m going to have to look that one up especially because you’re having such good success with it. That’s great to hear. I appreciate and respect what you’re saying about replacing stepper motors and getting in at that level. A lot of us who are very mechanically inclined go and get involved at that level. I did also in the very beginning of my exploration in 3D printing. I’m a very mechanically inclined guy. I used to take apart and repair my own cars and build all sorts of stuff as a teenager, so a machine doesn’t scare me. I used to take apart all my toys anyway and try to create them into something else, especially if they involved batteries and motors and things. It’s fun to do that. I only have so much time in my life to be able to dive too deep into it. I definitely have worked with a lot of printers, especially ones that were supposed to work a certain way but didn’t and maybe had defects.
Rather than ship the thing back to the manufacturer, I get on the phone with their tech people and say, “Guide me a little bit. I’ll take this apart and let’s figure out what’s happening.” I found I learned a lot more that way. I have a review of a 3D printer where its nozzle was very, very different, unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before. I had to dissect it. I had to understand how it worked. Part of that is to inform myself so I could use the machine better. I know that might sound strange. A lot of people might think, “Why would you need to do that?” I had some reasons why I needed to do that. I ended up breaking one of them and I accept that and I paid for it. When I use something, I get into it in the detail in order to understand it so that I can get the most out of it.
A great story related to that was right from the get-go, Matter and Form had a Kickstarter first. We had a parent who decided to get involved in a Kickstarter with Matter and Form and their scanners. He donated one to me and I tried it out and I wasn’t that impressed. It was slow and clunky, and it took a long time. I listened to your podcast review on you using one of the Matter and Form Scanners and you talk quite highly of it. Mine had sat and collected dust and I didn’t use it for awhile, but after listening to your review I said, “I need to go back and check this.” Sure enough, they had updated their firmware. As soon as I used it again, it scanned much better. The quality of my results was amazing and at our school, with my program and design, my Matter and Form Scanner is used all the time. All thanks to me listening to your podcast review.
I have to admit that that scanner, while it did work, I had a specific business purpose I needed to use it for and it solved that purpose and it was worth the money. There were a lot of things about that scanner that were not ideal from my personal opinion of how easy it should be to use or what the user-experience should be. It definitely was far from perfect, but it did get the job done. At the end of the day, it did a decent job. I do feel like the desktop 3D scanning world that we live in, at the desktop level, it’s very sketchy in general. I’ve tried a lot of them that are very hard to work with. I hear other people talk at other podcasts or I read articles where they talk about 3D scanning as, “This is here. It’s real. It’s done. Don’t even give it a second thought.” I don’t think it’s that easy yet. Even with mine, there was out of the box, some gears on the turntable that were not properly seated. When I first turned it on, it made this horrible buzzing noise. Me being the kind of guy I am, I got out my tools and I took the thing apart and then I saw what was wrong. I reseated it in the right place and then it worked. A lot of customers aren’t going to do that and other customers had that experience, might put it back in the box and send it back. I understand that. I had a need, I had a deadline, I had something I needed to do so I was like, “I’ve got to see if I can make this work.” Thank you for the compliment on that episode. I’m glad it helped you and you got some value out of it.
I had sent one picture to you. One of my projects in Grade 10, the students have to combine skills because they go through the program. Once they get me in Grade 10, we’re combining some complex skills. They have to create this lamp from scratch. They’re given a light socket and a bulb and their lamp has to meet the needs of some fake clients. This one girl created this amazing lamp that looked like a tree. The base of her lamp was literally like a tree. She found in our school yard this tree branch. We set it on that scanner and it scanned it so well. The bumps and the knots and everything showed up and it was so impressive. I sent a picture to you showing you a sample of what that product look like.
How did you find the software? How did you find dealing with the scanned file after the scan was complete to be? Did you find you had to do a lot of jumping through hoops to get the right software that could work with it or did it work very easily for you?
It worked easy for us. Within the software, they have an opportunity for them and their software to do a bit of a cleanup on points. We saved it as an STL and there were still some gaps and holes. Because time is not on my side, a designer might spend many, many hours tidying up and problem solving either CAD files or this. I don’t have that luxury with my students. I use a program called MakePrintable.com with my students. They can upload an STL file to MakePrintable.com and it will run an AI that cleans a lot of stuff up for them. That’s how this particular file ended up being cleaned up for this girl was she ran it through. It asks a series of questions or prompts that she does, things like wall thickness and if there are holes or it’s not manifold, etc. It gives me more opportunity to allow kids to dive into the design cycle and not finicky CAD stuff.
I’m glad to hear that because to me that is the toughest thing to deal with about scans, as long as you get a good scan, is the actual mesh and how to work with it, manipulate it, seal those holes. To me, oftentimes when I’m scanning something, it’s not to scan it and print it. It’s not like I’m trying to get a clean scan. I want to get it and then manipulate it, augment it, add to it, take away from it, do something else and that’s where it can be tricky.
In your podcast, you talk a lot about different CAD programs. Tracy and you both say that there’s a need out there for people to learn more CAD skills and I couldn’t agree more. I’m finding that kids are progressing. We introduce in Grade 7 and then a little bit in eight, the basics which is Tinkercad, but many of them are ready to move on to Fusion 360 by Grade 9 and then ten. It’s amazing how I don’t think we give students enough credit at their ability once they get going on something to move progressively faster on it.
Fusion 360, I’m impressed with as a software. It’s a good bridge between the software that I’ve used of recent years, the Rhinoceros, which is definitely more NURBS-based and surface modeling. More artistic or creative people use that type of software if not all the way to the other extreme of the real pixel-based modelers, ZBrush. The other side, the more parametric programs like your Autodesk Inventors and your SOLIDWORKS. It’s a great software to be helping school that your students’ in.
It’s neat to see how even project start to evolve. I first started out trying to give them meaningful projects. Being inexperienced like many teachers, we started out pretty simple and we’re making spinning tops. We would measure the mass of the spinning top and then how long the little plastic spinning top could spin. Like any teacher or person, for that matter, when you’re interested in something, we have the opportunity to learn more. You listen to podcasts or you look at YouTube clips. You start to realize that 3D printing can be more than that. We evolved to doing a project where kids had to make an Olympic Torch because the Olympics is a thing all the time. They had to research a country that had never hosted the Olympics and design a two-part torch so the total was eighteen inches. I took a course on these little microchips, they’re called Micro bits and they can cause LED lights to light up. They made 3D printed models of Olympic torches that were more interactive because they had to put a little micro bit into it. It could make sounds or make lights dance. My wisdom to teachers is once you get going, like a student, you get better and better. The project gets better and better and pretty soon, more complex and pretty fantastic.
It’s amazing how technology has allowed such relatively easy integration of functions into projects like LEDs are so small, inexpensive, don’t require a lot of power. When I think about if I wanted to integrate some electronic or electric functions into things when I was in school, it was a much bigger undertaking. Are there any other projects that would be some of your favorite or the ones you’ve described already or are you already highlighting some of best and your favorite projects?
One other one that we haven’t done yet but I have an older high school student who has a 3D printer at home and he came to me and said, “What do you think about doing this?” We have a big climbing wall at our school. The climbing wall holds come in many different shapes and forms and sizes depending on where you want to grip.. He came to me and we’re working together as a team to prototype 3D printed climbing wall holds which will then be set in mold and then cast in resin with sand. Our hope with his help and guidance is to start out with the Grade 8 doing a climbing wall hold product design. That’s going to be interesting because we have local experts within our school that are climbers and they’ll be able to help guide the kids on what makes a good climbing wall hold and why is there such variety. We’re going to go from there. I’m excited about this climbing wall hold project that we’re going to start. We’ve got a bit of time where I’ve got this high school kid that’s going to work with me to iron out the kinks before we deliver it to the kids.
That’s a brilliant project. In California, we have a lot of schools that are newer construction schools than maybe in other areas of the country. I’m finding that at least a small climbing wall of some sort is a pretty common thing, at least here in Southern California on playgrounds, even at elementary schools up to junior and senior high schools. That’s a fantastic project that any other teachers or schools in other parts of the country, if they have such a climbing wall, could then take on that kind of project as a way to get students engaged in the process.
I can’t take credit for it. It’s so amazing how you start to get these devices in the building and kids take notice too and they start to develop agency and ideas and it cultivates.
If you could look into a crystal ball and look at the future of 3D printing either in schools or even maybe what some of your future students do when they get out of school, what kinds of things do you see might happen or dream about or wish that might be the future?
My dream would be to have 3D printers like inkjet printers, to be available and accessible to kids as they’re working on their science project or as they’re working on a Genius Hour or a Passion Project or even something they’re interested in doing at home. The stumbling block for many teachers still is they haven’t taken the time to sandbox. By sandbox is to discover more about what does this entail? Some still have this idea that it’s only for people with a huge amount of technical skill and it’s too much to embark on. The industry, like you with your podcast, needs to debunk that myth and get them in schools because you can print anything if you have great ideas and creativity and imagination.
I hope that it becomes as common as other tools that we accumulate as young adults. As we become adults, we accumulate tools to accomplish certain things whether it’s in our garages or as a part of our school education and it becomes another thing that you have. I know not everybody has certain kinds of tools, but I’m the kind of guy that as we’ve moved in different areas around the country over my adult life, I’ve carried it around with me a drill press and a band saw and a whole host of different hand tools. I like the idea of it being at least that common, if not more common. I know not everybody has those things. Where you’ve got to solve a problem and what you need isn’t easily available off the shelf somewhere, then you go and make it. You have enough CAD skills that that’s not a barrier. You can quick measure up a few things, do a little model and then I’ll have it an hour later or so.
Craig, thank you so much for coming on the show. It was a pleasure to hear what’s going on at your school and what you’re doing with this. I love this end-to-end curriculum. You are taking a great approach to it and your students are going to be very well setup for whatever they take on in the future as a result.
Thanks, Tom. I’m so happy to be on here. You have some amazing guests and so much to be learned from you.
The Design Cycle: Design Process Education Through 3D Printing – Final Thoughts
I’m always pleasantly surprised, I don’t mean this to sound like a negative thing at all, but I’m pleasantly surprised when I meet new teachers through social media or those of you that write in and comment on our blog or maybe send us an email that there are lots of great stories to tell out there amongst different teachers at different levels of education who are doing different things with 3D printing. I’m sure there are a lot of similarities among a lot of programs, there are also a lot of things that differentiate one program from another. As all of you know, I’m a designer. I went to art school for college, but I’ve always been very mechanical as well. I appreciate this cradle-to-grave, end-to-end design process education. It’s about a lot of things, about problem solving. It’s about teaching technical skills, but it is also about fostering this environment and situation where students can be taught something, but they also have a lot of free reign to explore. They’re not following a prescribed program. They’re being taught skills and a process that they can do many things with especially solving problems. That kind of education, I wish it was in every school district.
It’s the same kind of education that my oldest daughter got at a charter school in southern California called OCSA, that is a high school of the arts. You have to apply to go to it. At that school, it’s almost a little bit more in their conservatory classes, which is half of their day, were learning a discipline and somewhere in the arts or the performing arts or visual arts, some creative arts, that it’s almost like a Bauhaus type education where it’s this holistic approach. To me, what Craig was talking about was a bit of a holistic design approach to a curriculum, or at least teaching them the process and skills and discipline needed to be able to engage in a real problem-solving design or creative process like that. I was excited to hear that. There is something that I did not mention in the interview with Craig and I want to make sure that I give him proper shout-out and credit for it. In addition to being a 3D printing and STEAM educator, he also has a lot of interest in VR technology and VR in education.
If Tracy were here during that interview, I’m sure the interview would have gone on a bit longer with a lot more questions and discussion about that because that’s one of Tracy’s areas of interest. She has interest in VR and AR and some of that new technology and has attended some conferences and written about it. Since that’s her area of expertise, I didn’t dive too much into that. Craig has his own podcast that he’s launched and the name of his podcast is VR in Education. It is on iTunes and a lot of the common podcast distribution channels. I would invite you to please go give it a try if you have interest in these subjects and this area of education, in particular, as it’s always evolving. I’m sure Craig’s going to have a lot of great things to talk about. I’m going to go give it a listen as well. I highly recommend you do that. He’s a couple episodes into that podcast, so as he gets a little bit further down the road, there will be another opportunity to have Craig back on our show with Tracy and to take a deeper dive into his VR in Education world as this continues to become an incredibly popular subject.
Craig, hopefully will have even a lot more valuable things and stories to help share with us regarding what he’s experienced in using VR in education. Please go and give that a listen and I would still love to hear from other educators who are out there who have other angles, perspectives, other projects you’re working on, maybe even different goals. Are there any competitions going on out there? I keep being reminded every time we do an interview like this that there’s so much variety out there. Just because you’ve done several episodes on 3D printing in education, does not mean you can’t do anymore or it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anymore. There are lots of great, interesting things for all of us to learn from that.
Please reach out anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint or come to 3DStartPoint.com. Leave us a comment or send us an email and you might come on the show like Craig did. Craig, thank you for being our guest. Thank you all for listening. Tracy will be back next time with me, but for now, this has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Craig Frehlich
- Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School
- da Vinci 1.0
- Matter and Form
- Fusion 360
- Autodesk Inventors
- Micro bits
- Craig’s podcast on iTunes
About Craig Frehlich
Craig Frehlich has been a Middle School and High School design teacher for many years. He uses 3-d printing in his classes to allow students to solve unique and challenging design problems. Craig believes that all students should have the opportunity to think and design in 3-d.
Listen | Download | View
Hear the episode of the WTFFF?! Podcast by using the player above OR click to download any episode.
Help Us Help You!
Have some feedback? Leave a comment below. We will read and respond