3D Design Software for Primary Schools

3D design skills are becoming more and more relevant in the 21st century workplace. Applicable to all the STEM fields, age appropriate 3d software gives students the opportunity to learn the 3d design basics at a young age which sets a solid base for further development. What software is available to teach primary students 3D design techniques? Today, we look at 2 products in the 3d design space, Makers Empire and Tinkercad. The below is a high level overview of how the products operate. It is best to download a copy of each application to try it yourself to determine suitability to your school’s requirements. Other software products are available and will be covered in the future.

MAKERS EMPIRE

There are two options for using Makers Empire software. A limited single user free option or the school based subscription model.

The free version does not include access to lesson plans, professional development or the teachers dashboard detailed further below, or the ability to export files to 3D print. At the time of writing, the school subscription was $1999/pa and includes Makers Empire 3D, Makers Empire Teacher Dashboard – for easy class management,  Makers Empire Curriculum and some Professional development. Or call Makers Empire to get a personalised quote.

Makers Empire is a very engaging 3D design tool for children. The software not only does a great job of simplifying 3D design process, but makes it fun for the kids at the same time. A built in an achievement level system rewards students by unlocking more advanced design features at the appropriate times. It also has a concept of tokens, which are awarded for creating new designs, using features, liking and commenting on other students’ work and participating in challenges. Students can use these tokens to purchase other students’ designs or unlock other designs by Makers Empire. Each student has their own basic avatar (Hero in Makers Empire) which they can style with an array of clothes, eyes, hairstyles, ear/nose/mouth shapes, actions etc. Students will need to collect tokens to unlock many of the “cooler” styles which will encourage them to create 3D designs in order to be awarded tokens to spend.

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When students first log into Makers Empire, the system will take them through a series of guided instructional lessons to give them the basics as to how it works. After gaining a certain proficiency via the guided lessons, the “World” area is unlocked for the students to explore where there are many design challenges to complete.

There are 5 Tabs/Menu items in Makers Empire (see below pic). World, Gallery, Create, My Designs and Profile.

The World tab is an area where the students can choose to challenge themselves at their own pace and competency level. Click on an area and your hero responds by moving to that area to get further instructions. There is a competition area, where periodic design challenges are opened up to students all over the world. Entries are judged and finalist’s entries are showcased on the Makers Empire hall of fame where prizes may be awarded. The Training Lab is an area to brush up on the guided basic lessons. Mission Control gives the student access to design challenges to do at their own pace. These challenges appear on the teacher’s dashboard to be marked by the teacher and awarded tokens if applicable. Alternatively, the teacher can comment and advise that the student hadn’t followed all the design criteria and should amend the design to complete the task. The last area is a Rocket design area where you can create your own challenges for others to play. There is a new Game Zone area where it looks like they will be adding challenges/tutorials in the future. At the time of writing, there was only a maze game available to play. Stay tuned. 

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The Gallery tab opens up the world of 3D design possibilities where the students can view other students  work in their class, in their school or all over the world.

The Create tab is where the students start their new designs. It opens a blank design canvas together with the toolbar where they can begin to imagine and create.

My Designs tab is an area where the user’s creations are displayed and can be edited. It shows which designs have been commented on and/or liked by others which may earn tokens.

Profile page is an area to create/amend your Hero and alter other settings.

There are many instructional videos for a teacher to follow which gives them, and their students, a very good handle on how the program works. The actual 3d designing part is reasonably straight forward and can be picked up by the children in no time. There are not a lot of buttons (see below screenshot of monster design)to become familiar with so the best way to learn is to follow some tutorials and just get in and design something. Show the students the very basics and let them go. Learning together can be fun and can give the children a sense of achievement when they have to explain to the teacher how something works. The general idea is that you build an object by adding together a series of shapes. Each shape can be moved, turned, made bigger or smaller, cut, filled, copied, mirrored, linked etc. All can be done from different viewing angles which gives a high degree of maneuverability which enables the designer to create whatever they imagine.

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Simply export any of the students’ 3D designs as a STL file so you can 3D print their works of “art”. Perhaps their design was an invention and needs to tested for suitability? Test, make alterations via the iterative design thinking process and complete the task with a working model that can be painted and showcased for all to see. Real skills for the real future.

Makers Empire is designed predominantly for schools and has a teacher’s dashboard website (online) where a teacher can monitor the work of each student in their class, mark and comment on their work and award tokens for a job well done.  Students can be added to a class by simply importing a CSV file prefilled with the students in the class which saves on the administrative process of entering data for the whole school. Other sections of the teacher’s dashboard guide teachers with Professional Development videos, show how to best use the supplied lesson plans and how to get the most from Makers Empire in the classroom.

Teacher’s Dashboard Resources area includes a Lesson Library  with over 150 searchable lessons (shown below) and a Lesson Builder, used to create and share your own lessons with others, and more videos.

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A great product for the classroom, sure to keep the children engaged.

TINKERCAD

Tinkercad is a free to use browser based online application, not quite as engaging (in my opinion) for the younger children as Makers Empire, but is a great tool to learn the art of 3D design. It has some benefits which may appeal to some schools more than other 3D design products. It provides for precise movement/placement of objects in the 3D design space and helps children learn important concepts such as scale, alignment and degrees.

The software looks clean and uncluttered and is easy to learn with the many self paced extremely well guided tutorials. Tinkercad has 3 top line menu items:

Gallery where you view others’ designs and get some great ideas

Learn where you can follow guided lessons before diving into the world of 3D design

Teach where you can view instructions on how to set up a class of students via an invite code and have the teacher become their moderator. Teach also provides access to webinars for teachers and guided lessons as well some suggested lesson plans.

Down the left side of the application are menu items for:

3D Designs – Where you create all your designs and edit previous ones.

Circuits – Where you can tinker with circuit modules to create your own electronic designs.

Lessons – Where the designs are stored from the tutorials you have completed.

Codeblocks – New feature where you can learn how to program Tinkercad to automatically draw designs using Scratch like code.

Projects – A place to create and store various designs related to the one project.

Within the Tinkercad 3D Designer, you can create a normal 3D object, a Minecraft object, a Brick (Lego like) object or a Shape generator object (more advanced use where variables and javascript programming are involved). The normal 3D designed objects can simply be converted to STL files and 3D printed. With the Minecraft option, you can create your own design and import them into your own Minecraft game. Cool for the kids into Minecraft. Bricks is a new feature and really just shows you how to build your design layer by layer. Cool for those kids into Lego.

Below is a screenshot of the 3D design workspace where a dice has been designed from one of the many guided tutorials.

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Tinkercad works by dragging objects from the right hand side toolbox(s) and dropping them onto a workplane (which can be changed to any angle in the 3d field) in the design space. From here, simply grab object drag points and manipulate as required. Or enter exact measurements into the dimensions field of the object. See below object (hand) measurement grab points and in the picture below that, object rotation in precise degrees.

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Simply use negative shapes (holes) to cut away from positive (solid) shapes to create any shape you desire. Easy to make a square into a triangle, a cylinder into a tube and so forth. Tinkercad has a great 3 dimensional alignment tool (see pic below, just click alignment dot) to enable precise positioning required in many 3D design projects.

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There are a series of connector shapes where you can attach them to your individually designed parts to enable them to be clipped together once 3D printed. See dinosaur model below.

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2D and 3D shapes can be imported into Tinkercad and modified with little effort.

Tinkercad also has a electronic circuitry module where you can create and learn about electronics with LEDs, resistors, capacitors, switches and the like. Plenty of tutorials to guide you through the process. Simple enough for 10 year olds to follow. Even see the block based code that controls the simulation feature that visually tests your designed circuits. Or switch to javascript coding for the more advanced older children. A great way to lean some javascript programming without having to start from scratch.  Learn how to wire components together on a breadboard to make electrical connections with sensors and even attach virtual Arduino boards.

Tinkercad is part of the Autodesk software suite and is a great introduction to the tools and concepts used in their more advanced software used throughout the commercial workforce for 3D design tasks. Easily export your Tinkercad designs to Autodesk Fusion 360 (used in many secondary schools) for further more detailed development.

Happy designing!

 

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