I’ve mentioned that I use LEGO bricks in a number of ways when teaching STEM subjects. In addition to using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method to help facilitate better conversations among students and to help solve problems, I’ve also used LEGO bricks as aids for teaching other, non LEGO SERIOUS PLAY subjects. Some of my favorites are using LEGO bricks to explain fractions, and using LEGO bricks to demonstrate area, volume and perimeter of objects. I’ve also found them helpful for teaching some of the basic concepts of 3D printing. Using LEGO bricks helps students visualize how the 3D printing process “works” as well as how to build models in ways that yield successful prints.
One of the fundamental concepts of 3D printing is that the printer extrudes material in small layers, one on top of another. The easiest way to use LEGO bricks to demonstrate this is to ask students to build a tower (sound familiar?). Once they’ve finished, ask them which part they started with? Typically, they answer that they started at the bottom, and built towards the top. This is exactly how a 3D printer works. It will print the bottom layer first, then work upwards. Students easily understand that it is much more difficult to start with the top of the tower, and work to the bottom.
Once students understand that 3D printers print in layers, it is not uncommon for me to ask them to build the first layer of a house. This is how almost every LEGO house starts, as a single layer of bricks along the outside edge of a base plate. I’ll often ask them to build the first layer of things like a table, a chair, a bed, or even the inside walls. This exercise helps them think through the “big picture” of where things will be placed, and how things will fit in the overall structure.
Another concept that is true in 3D printing that can be easily explained with LEGO bricks, is the concept of “hanging objects”, parts of an object that don’t start on the build plate (first layer), rather they are hanging in mid air. Once students have built five or six layers of their perimeter, ask them to add something that is typically found on the ceiling such as a light or fan. This poses a real challenge as most of them will not have any way to support the item. Using this example it is easier to understand how a hanging part on a 3D printed object would not work without some type of support.
I hope that you find this useful if you’re trying to teach students the basics of 3D printing!
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