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Ricerca per l'innovazione della scuola italiana

Building Toys with 3D Printers

As part of Maker@School, from 2014, there is an ongoing project: “Building Toys with 3D Printers”, a research based on the observation of children’s activities in eight primary schools:

  • “Solari” Comprehensive School, “Beniamino Gigli”, Infant School, Loreto, Ancona
  • “Cadeo e Pontenure” Comprehensive School, Pontenure Infant School, Piacenza
  • “Andrea del Sarto” Infant School, Florence
  • “Gianni Rodari” Infant School, Florence
  • “Gesù Buon Pastore” State Authorized Infant School, Florence
  • Sigillo Comprehensive School, “G. Agostinelli” Infant School, Perugia
  • San Valentino Torio Comprehensive School, Salerno
  • “J.J. Rousseau” State Infant School, Turin.

Why did we decide to introduce 3D printers in infant schools?
The reasons lie in the very nature of these tools, which only work properly if the initial design of the project, is well done. With respect to other 3D modelling activities, such as Lego, clay and playdough, where it is possible to modify the project plan while it is in progress, the 3D printer requires particular care during planning. In fact, an error at this stage will lead to the printing of an object that does not match the required objectives.

This process triggers off an improvement process named Think-Make-Improve in which the repetition of the different phases of the project: designing, creation, analysis, evaluation; and then new design and new creation, improve the final product.

Following an agreement with INDIRE, a 3D printer and a Doodle3D device were supplied to the schools involved. During the third year of the project, a research, split in three phases, was carried out on the schools partecipating in the project.

In the first phase, some teaching activities were agreed with the teachers, starting from their own experience and the types of activity normally carried out in class, considering also what they considered appropriate for their class. A structured observation grid was also prepared to assess the results obtained.

In the second phase, the teachers were asked to begin activities following a pre-set calendar. Direct observation in the schools involved made it possible to carry out an in-depth study of aspects linked to the children’s ways of designing and looking at three-dimensional objects.  During the activity, children developed advanced metacognitive competencies concerning problem solving, spatial perspective and spatial intelligence. Children’s interaction among themselves and with the machine, and the way they carried out the proposed tasks were also observed.

In the third phase, the work carried out was analysed. Common denominators were sought among the various schools, highlighting the positive aspects that emerged during the activities. These aspects might prove to be useful to formulate repeatable guidelines for every school.