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For students to explore 3D modeling concepts such as converting 2D graphics to 3D, navigating in 3D space, and working with proxy models. Students will also 3D print their own personalized functional pieces and will investigate 3D printing concepts such as tolerance and printer settings through a hands-on exploratory approach. A large emphasis is placed on redesigning and problem-solving concepts.
The final piece is a 60mm x 60mm 3D printed functional multi-material maze.
6-8 hours class time + fabrication time
For each student
- 3mm ball bearing (1x)
- 60mm x 60mm clear plastic cut sheet (1x)
- 3D printed maze frame (1x). Download and 3D print file “MazeFrame.stl”
- Laptop with internet access (1x)
- Computer mouse (1x)
- Gel Super Glue tubes (4-5x, total volume of 0.5 to 0.75 oz)
- Various acrylic paints or paint pens for decoration (optional)
Overview of Project Steps
- Students create Maze designs in 3D design software.
- 3D print the designs.
- Place ball bearing into the maze.
- Glue on clear plastic top and frame.
Setup & Planning
- If possible, have frames 3D printed in multiple colors ahead of time.
- Create a maze of your own to demo the project. It will help the students understand the design task.
- Give all students access to the MazeBase.svg and MazeOuterWalls.svg files. You can create a Google Drive (or similar online file management system) folder with the files in it and email a link to students to download. Alternatively, you can pass around a USB drive for students to copy the files onto their computers.
- Intro the activity and emphasize that students will be creating a functional maze. Explain how multiple redesigns and prototypes are made by designers and engineers before the final functional products go to market. You can give the example of a car tire. Car tires have tread patterns because they function the best that way. This was learned by engineers after designing, testing, and redesigning.
- It is a good idea to give students a class period or two to play around in the 3D design software (such as TinkerCAD) and get a feel for how to move around. Instruct them with a challenge. Have them create a custom player piece for a board game by stacking different shapes. Have them dimension the piece to have a usable real-world size for a board game.
- Students may want to sketch their maze out before they design it! Draw a 60mm by 60mm square on a piece of paper. Measure 5mm inside and draw another square to show the orthographic (a flat architectural view) top view. Have them sketch out their maze keeping in mind that the walls will be 5mm or so thick. You can even draw up a template and make copies to hand out.
- The procedure instructions on this page are based on the program TinkerCAD. However, they can be translated into other 3D design software.
- If students are unfamiliar with TinkerCAD, you may wish to go to https://www.tinkercad.com/3d-design and scroll down to view the interactive lessons. “Learning the moves” is a great one to have students go through. "Chess Pawn" walks them through building a chess pawn. If you have extra time, have students work through the classes at their own pace.
- Instruct students to download the file MazeBase.svg and MazeOuterWalls.svg
- In Tinkercad, have the students import the downloaded MazeBase.svg file. Choose to import (found at the top right) “as art”.
- Have them resize the height of the box to 5mm by clicking the middle white box and typing in 5mm, or have them drag the box to a height of 5mm.
- In Tinkercad, have the students import the MazeOuterWalls.svg file and choose to import “as art”. The two files will import taking up the same space.
- Students should move the Outer Walls shape to the side. Resize the height to 5mm.
- Use the black cone to raise the Outer Walls shape to the height of the top of the base shape. Move the Outer Wall shape above the base shape. Make sure that they are touching but not overlapping.
- Have the students select both objects by holding down shift (or dragging a large box around it with the left mouse button). Then, click the Group icon at the top right - You now have the main shape of your maze.
- Students should drag a sphere onto the Workplane.
- They should make the sphere 3mm all around - this will serve as a guide for us as we build our maze. This is a proxy model – a stand-in for a real-world object. We will be using 3mm metal bearings. Raise the ball to the height of 3mm so that it will be flush with the base of the maze.
- Students should drag a cube onto the Workplane and dimension the box to be 5mm tall and 2.5mm wide. The length is up to them to decide.
- Have them make a few copies of this box to use as their walls as they build their maze! (Control+c & Control+v)
- Encourage them to experiment with lengths and different angles – as they work have them make sure the 3mm ball will fit in between the walls by moving it around the maze.
- Make sure that the walls completely touch each other or the outer walls. If they do not, there will be a gap when they print it out. Use the alignment tool to make wall intersections line up.
- When the students think they are finished, have them move the proxy ball through the maze a last time to make sure it has enough clearance (enough room) to pass through. The 3D printer has a tolerance threshold that accounts for the plastic expanding or contracting. Because of this we do not want the ball to fit exactly within the walls. Leave a little wiggle room.
- Once they are done designing their walls, have students move the ball out of the way.
Start and End Engraving
- You may choose to label the start and the end of the maze with an S and an E.
- Pull a text shape from the Basic Shapes bar and change it to an S. Resize it to 4mm x 4mm with a height of 2.5mm. In the details panel, make the S a hole. Raise it so that the top of the S is in the same height as the top of the outer wall.
- Copy-Paste the S and make the second one an E.
- Place the letters in the outer wall next to the start and end of your maze.
Finish 3D model
- Drag a square around the maze to select all the components.
- CTRL + c to copy it all. CTRL + v to paste it. Move it out of the way. Now the students have two versions! This is so they can go back and make changes if you choose to allow them to print a second maze. The second version will be a record of what they have printed.
- Have students select one of the copies (and all the individual components) by dragging a box around it (but not the second copy or the sphere). Click the Group icon to make it into one object.
- Students should rename their TinkerCad file by clicking the file name at the top left to this format: “Lastname_maze.”
- Students will select the model and press the “Export” button next to “Import”. Choose the STL option. An STL is a standard 3D printing file. We have taken our maze base and maze walls SVG files, SVG is a 2D graphics file, and converted them to 3D. (We could have saved the SVG files as STL files, but this exercise teaches students how to use a 2D file to create a 3D file.) The file will automatically download to the student’s “Downloads” folder.
- Prepare and 3D Print the mazes.
- Once the mazes have printed, create an assembly line table by creating stations with the ball bearings, clear plastic covers, and frames. Students will move through the table with their maze one by one checking if 1) the ball fits through the entire maze and 2) if the clear cover will fit flush on top of the maze. If there is an issue, it’s redesign time! If there is no issue, set the maze to the side.
- Put the ball bearing in the maze. Put a few dots of super glue (you do not need a lot) on the top of the maze. Keep the dots closer to the outer rim than the inner rim. Place the clear plastic on top of the dots of glue. Next, glue the 3D printed frame on top. Let dry for a few hours.
- The mazes are done! You may choose to use a class period where the students demonstrate their mazes and talk about what was the most challenging part of the project. Also ask them what they would like to make next. Give the students time to test out each other’s mazes. Set a timer and have them beat the clock!
Tips & Tricks
- Hold the shift key while rotating the objects in TinkerCad to achieve straight angles.
- The inner walls must not be taller than the outer maze wall. This is because we are placing a clear cover on top of it.
- Introduce the scribble tool under basic shapes as another way for students to create their maze. This tool allows them to actually hand-draw their shapes. This will create curves instead of straight lines (which can create a more difficult maze).
- Students can create a small recess at the start and end that the ball will sit in. Use a sphere to make a hole in the top of the base by lowering it into the base partway.
- Challenge the students to making one false exit in the maze – a path that will lead to a trap! The trap could be a small recess in the base of the maze that the ball falls into similar to the start or end position but deeper.
- If some students finish early, allow them to import the MazeFrame.stl into TinkerCad. They can type their name onto the top of this frame or decorate it in any way. They can put symbols for the entrance and exit that will line up with the maze.
- If a student wants to attempt to make very thin walls, let them! Let the students go wild with their designs the first time as you will be printing them out twice most likely. You will print them, the students will test the functionality with the balls, and they will have to redesign if the ball gets stuck in an area. It is better to let them see firsthand why something won’t work rather than simply telling them.
- When 3D printing, make sure the models are flat on the build plate. They shouldn’t need any support material or a raft. Print a few at a time.
- If the mazes haven’t finished printing before your next class period, have the students expand on the 2D to 3D concept. Have them draw a closed shape (like a heart or star) in Google Drawing. They should download that file as an SVG. Then, have them import that into TinkerCad like we did with the mazebase.svg and mazewalls.svg files. See what cool stuff they can make out of drawings!
Interested in more STEAM Project-based Learning resources? TinkRworks K-8 supplemental curriculum makes it simple to add hands-on STEAM education to your school. Learn more: www.TinkRworks.com.