Whether we want to admit it or not, humans are inherently tinkerers and engineers. It’s been a part of us since the cave days when we started making tools out of sticks and rocks. It’s in our nature to build, improve, and invent. We’re makers.
Of course there are individuals who carry us as a community, geniuses in their own right who created the cotton gin, the automobile, or the airplane. But I like to think of these people not so much as anomalous blips on an otherwise empty radar screen but as those who wholly embrace the universal urge to invent and have the gumption to see it through.
Still, creating one’s own robotic pancake machine is not the norm; making is not the norm. And this fact is reflected in the niche that the maker movement has been forced into, as online and in-life communities cultivate the spirit of invention and the satisfaction of creating. For most people, making, in all its different names and iterations, is not even a wrinkle in everyday consciousness. You have to think that a generally low level of interest in engineering is at least partly to blame for the well-documented American shortcomings in technological and scientific innovations and education.
This is where STEM education, and specifically 3D printing, can be a huge help. It gets kids thinking like engineers early on and it makes engineering cool. More importantly, it gives kids the power to invent independent of limitations.
3D Systems’ own Roxanne Rives recently helped out at an event at the Children’s Creativity Museum of San Francisco, where kids got a taste of all things creative, including a helping of the 3D printing tools that will prove so valuable to improving our scientific innovation. Take it away, Roxanne.
The Children’s Creativity Museum of San Francisco is an interactive art and technology museum for kids. Their mission is to nurture the 3 C’s of 21st century skills: Creativity, collaboration, and communication among youth and their families. It is a place where youth can go to imagine, pretend, learn, grow, and play.
As part of its Creativity Day on May 3, 2014, the museum invited the City X Project, which is sponsored by 3D Systems, to hold 3D printing and prototyping workshops for the kids. I volunteered at the event with several other City X Project volunteers to show the kids what amazing things they can do with 3D printing.
For those who haven’t heard of the City X Project, it’s pretty cool. Its mission is to teach creative problem solving using 3D printing technologies and design by way of a fictional city established on a distant planet: City X. Over time, the citizens of City X have run into common challenges and social problems, from transportation to communications. The city is relying on the Earth’s young designers, engineers, and 3D artists to innovate a way around these challenges by designing inventions that citizens of City X can 3D print.
It was great to see how the combination of an engaging narrative, empowerment, and amazing technology really grabbed the kids. There really are no limits to what 3D printing can do to help a child grow and learn while playing and creating what they imagine.
Each of our five hourly workshops began with an urgent transmission from the mayor of City X. From there the kids made all sorts of creations that could help City X’s citizens. They used clay to model their inventions. Some were able to digitally design them and then 3D print them on the Cube 3D printer. One little girl, Mia, created a water tower for safe drinking water. She was captivated by the Cube — she couldn’t take her eyes off of it until her 3D print was done. Another girl created a food scanner, which citizens of City X could use to verify that food is both edible and sanitary.
I even asked one boy to tell me what 3D printing was. “It’s when you draw a picture and the picture comes out of the machine on the glass,” he said.
I loved seeing how unencumbered these children were by the logistics and rules that weigh us down. For them it was as simple as having an idea and making it. They were only at the mercy of their imaginations — their very broad imaginations. This freedom is such a huge key to getting them interested in developing a new wave of creative innovators, and 3D printing plays a vital role because it strips away a lot of the limitations that come up when trying to manufacture a design.