Just about everyone involved in the 3D printing industry, as well as in the educational field, agrees that 3D printing is an incredibly important skill for children to learn from an early age. Along with other emerging technology such as robotics, 3D printing is already becoming a huge part of the workplace, and it’s only going to become more so. It’s helpful, therefore, that 3D printing is so much fun – most kids are fascinated by it. What child isn’t going to get a thrill out being able to make their own toys – in school, nonetheless?
Engineer Nestor “Yan” Llanos has been working with 3D printing and design for over 20 years; in fact, he served as the Lead Design Engineer on the world’s first 3D printed car, the Strati from Local Motors. He also has children of his own, which inspired him to begin exploring ways to get kids interested in 3D printing and other STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) subjects.
Llanos founded DreamFactory and with his fellow designers developed BuddyRacers, a collection of characters and cars that kids can download and 3D print. The project allows children to learn about 3D modeling and printing while having fun creating their own toy worlds. Now Llanos has written an educational book for children aged 4-10. The Little Designer teaches kids about 3D printing and 3D design with simple step-by-step tutorials that are included alongside a story.
The story is set in “Buddyland,” as the creatures from the BuddyRacers collection prepare for the annual Buddygames event. As kids work their way through the book, they are guided to create their own 3D printable cartoon characters, which gradually increase in complexity until the “little designers” have the skills to customize and 3D print a whole world including monsters, cars, spaceships, buildings and entire cities.
“The 3D printing technology is new; therefore, it is not quite a ‘push button’ yet,” explains Llanos. “Children will need assistance for some tasks. Before helping, allow them to try for themselves, which will help them to develop into makers.”
Llanos funded the publication of the book with a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. Once it was published, he set up a series of trial classes through Local Motors, to an enthusiastic response, and last month he showcased the book and its associated projects at the Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire. The experience inspired Llanos to work to reach more children by getting the book into elementary schools with STEAM curriculum programs.
Currently, he is working with STAX3D, a 3D technology solutions provider in Gilbert, Arizona, to support schools interested in setting up 3D design and printing programs. Gilbert’s local school district is the first that they are working with, and according to Llanos, several other school districts are interested as well.
“I think this is just the beginning,” he says.
According to Llanos, The Little Designer fits K-6 STEAM curricula, and the DreamFactory website offers plenty of supporting material including video tutorials, additional 3D models to download, and an online community. A 3D model marketplace where kids can share, buy and sell their models will be coming to the site soon, along with a 3D printing service for children who don’t have access to 3D printers.
Llanos’ goal of giving children access to 3D printing and design material is a far-reaching one that won’t likely end with The Little Designer. He’s concerned by the lack of 3D printing equipment in many schools; although more and more schools and libraries are adopting the technology, there are still plenty who don’t have the resources.
“There are not enough 3D Printers ( private and public) for them, and in order to…engage them, they need to have access to it,” he says. “My personal goal is to help educators to set 3D in schools as a new level in the learning process, since I work in a technology company and 3D Printing is ‘now,’ so we need to prepare the next generation.”
In addition to being ideal for the classroom, The Little Designer also lends itself well to at-home projects. Llanos comments on how he bonded with his own children by working with them on 3D design and printing projects, and he ultimately decided to publish his book as a way for other parents to spend quality time with their kids while learning with them. The Little Designer is available as an ebook for $9.99 and as both an ebook and a full-color printed book for $25.00. Both can be purchased from the DreamFactory website. Discuss in The Little Designer forum at 3DPB.com.