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How to Teach Future Makers with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

How to Teach Future Makers with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

In this month’s newsletter, we featured Jackie Tan, an inspiring Maker Lab teacher at South Tahoe Middle School in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Our colleague Sara Zuckerman met with Jackie in 2019, and here’s an extract of the interview.

From circus art to Maker Lab

Jackie has always loved working with kids, starting with the opportunity to teach circus arts at Club Med first, then at summer camps. But Jackie wanted to continue working with kids during the school year, so she became a teacher.

In the South Tahoe Middle School Maker Lab, Jackie has managed something incredible: she’s made a STEM and Maker program viable by applying for tens of thousands of dollars in grants, leading to more funding from her school district. Jackie has four Flashforge Finder 3D printers constantly printing her students’ creations. Her lab, the first dedicated makerspace in its school district, has an abundance of Maker tools and robot parts, teaching her eighth-graders how to build custom robots. But the main attractions for her and her students are the 3D printers and the models being printed. And those models are designed with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids.

Formerly a math teacher, Jackie started the Maker Lab program at South Tahoe Middle with 15 at-risk students in one self-contained classroom. Jackie needed a second teacher to help her in such an intense program. The school recognized Jackie’s Maker program as viable for all students, so she became a full-time Maker teacher working with the full student population.

Jackie’s Maker Lab received limited funding from her school during its second year. So she set out on her own and got $14,000 worth of grant funding. “It was a huge effort,” she recalled, “like a third job. So I brought our Maker Lab into the modern era.” With support from many donors through DonorsChoose.org, the lab received its first modern 3D printer, kicking off Jackie’s love and appreciation for 3D printing. Then, a month after receiving that printer, she met SOLIDWORKS at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA.

The introduction to Apps for Kids

designed with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids.

That’s where Jackie was introduced to SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids. User Experience Design Director Chinloo Lama and the SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids team were demonstrating how to use Apps for Kids. Jackie saw how the program worked and fell in love with it, especially the cube print feature. “As a mechanical engineer trained in the late 70’s/early 80’s, it’s fascinating to step away from orthographic views and pencil drawings to [Apps for Kids],” Jackie said when first discovering Apps for Kids. “I love the cube print feature, but I have a better chance of getting a 3D printer in my classroom than a color paper printer.” She explained this to the SOLIDWORKS team at the Maker Faire and when the fair was over, SOLIDWORKS gave Jackie their color printer. “It’s in my classroom now,” Jackie said. “I have that reminder [to go] back to SOLIDWORKS.” Now she uses Apps for Kids in all her classes, at all three grade levels, and is ready to start expanding her program into something much, much bigger.

“I made my first 3D print in November 2017,” Jackie said. “I’m on my first 3D printing anniversary right now. With my newfound knowledge of 3D printing and SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids, which to me is an awesome program, I see a great opportunity to get every kid that I see this year in the Maker Lab to make their first 3D print.”

Discovering Classroom

Back in September 2018, Jackie was gearing up for the new school year with her Maker Lab and Apps for Kids. After the success of the previous school year, the district gave her a significant amount of funding, along with her own grant-getting efforts, and she was preparing for over 400 kids to come in and out of her lab. While rummaging through her bag, she found the business card she received from SOLIDWORKS at the Maker Faire. “Literally on Monday, I found the card, and it said [there was] a Classroom version of SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids. It’s like, oh my gosh, I totally forgot about this. And on Wednesday, I was running a class!” Jackie exclaimed. A mere ten days after she started organizing her students and classes with Apps for Kids Classroom, Jackie had some very nice models printing away on her Flashforge Finders.

Teach Future Makers with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

Jackie is one of the earlier testers for SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids Classroom. Apps for Kids Classroom allows educators to organize self-contained classes and teach their kids the design and engineering principles. It provides a secure and private environment for students and educators to collaborate, lets teachers share content directly with students, comes with multiple lesson plans for various grade levels, and helps keep students and projects organized.

More than 400 kids take classes in Jackie’s Maker Lab each year. With Apps for Kids Classroom, she’s been able to add her students with their unique school email IDs, allowing them to continue experimenting with Apps for Kids models once their elective is over. She’s been in close contact with the Apps for Kids team, giving them feedback on how Classroom is working and what her students think of it.



Teaching with Apps for Kids

Jackie has created an intuitive and fun course for her kids to follow in the Maker Lab. In SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids, she starts every new group with a simple keychain to teach them how to add and subtract material. Once they make their first keychain models, the kids move on to animals.

Here’s where one of Jackie’s more brilliant teaching innovations comes in.  Surprisingly, it was born from a shipping mistake. “I asked for three little containers of Play-Doh last year,” she explained, “and I had two cases of Play-Doh delivered. I’ve been looking into a Play-Doh project since last year, and now I’m married to it; it’s fantastic.” Jackie’s Play-Doh projects relate directly to SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids. To teach her students how to think in three dimensions, she has them mold their animals out of the Play-Doh, so the model can be precisely what the student imagines. Then she takes a photo of the Play-Doh sculpture, uploads it to the students’ Seesaw journal, and voila! Her kids can refer back to the hand-sculpted model when creating in Apps for Kids.



3D modeling and 3D printing

For the students, it’s a fantastic bridge to 3D modeling. “My kids start with a keychain, with simple commands. Then they learn how to bridge and make a native shape larger and smaller by dragging the [SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids] yellow cups. They learn how to stretch and warp parts of a figure, which I call ‘pushing’ and ‘pulling.’ They practice all of that with their animal. And when they’re done with that, they get to design a new model of their own choice. At this point, [the students] have three designs, and they get to choose which one they want to print.”

Jackie laughed. “My printers have been running non-stop since yesterday! It’s super exciting because the kids are going to see their first 3D prints tomorrow morning!”

With pride, she said, “My students are truly digital natives. It’s fantastic to give them software that allows them to create on their terms.” Jackie doesn’t allow her students to find 3D models on the internet and print them at school—she’s not running a print shop. She requires kids to create their own original models to push both their creativity and their modeling skills. And she’s happy to report that her students are discovering, hey, they’re pretty good at this.

“So let me tell you what else I’m doing,” Jackie said as I listened intently, beyond excited for her Maker Lab’s future. Jackie has a lot of plans in the works—she wants to build something sustainable before she retires—but her biggest project involves the entire school. With the help of local philanthropic groups, she has recently received funding for three Maker carts, mobile carts with 3D printers, filaments, and more invention materials for classroom teachers around the school. There will be one cart per grade level.

The 3D Tech Squad

While Jackie prepares to purchase the three Maker carts, she has created a 3D Tech Squad, made up of thirty-one students from all grade levels. Members of the 3D Tech Squad will learn how to change filament, upload files to printers, remove models from plates, and so on, so they can support the teachers with the Maker carts. These students and teachers will all learn SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids to work on the next aspect of the project: teaching everyone at the school how to be Makers.

Teach Future Makers with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

“In social studies, [students] will be modeling artifacts they’re learning about in class. In language arts, they’ll be modeling characters or other artifacts from stories they read. In math, they’ll be modeling manipulatives and games. And in science, they’ll be modeling the things they use in experiments,” Jackie said. It’s a huge project aimed at spreading the Maker mentality to the entirety of the school’s population. “I’m going to have a separate 3D printer in the principal’s office because he wants one. He’s fascinated by [3D printing], which is great because if he’s fascinated, he’ll excite other people,” Jackie told me. “So I’ll teach him SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids and let him start modeling.” She plans on rolling the principal’s 3D printer into the school’s front hallway, so the entire student body can see the prints running every day. “I don’t want the printing to only happen in the Maker Lab,” Jackie said. “By January, we should have nine printers on campus, four in my classroom and five outside of my classroom.”

Now that she’s discovered 3D printing, Jackie has devoted herself to the Maker community. She runs workshops, gets support from teachers in Sonoma County, CA, and attends the reMAKE conference every summer. “I just learned about Flashforge Finder [3D printers] at the conference, then two weeks later I had the opportunity to buy them, and they’re just fantastic,” Jackie said over the sound of her 3D printers printing away.

“We have a lot of growth happening right now and some excellent management choices being made by our principal, which is opening up communication between all the departments,” she said. Teachers can sometimes feel isolated in their classrooms. Jackie sees Maker as something that holds the teaching curriculum together; educators can teach STEM across the curriculum, and she has a way of sharing it.

Future Makers with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

“I want the means to share everything I know with other teachers. We’re now setting up pathways to offer professional development at elementary, middle, and high school levels,” said Jackie. “I want to make this a sustainable program within the next four years. Huge, right?”

It’s gargantuan. By the time her current 6th-graders get to 8th-grade, Jackie expects them to be knocking down her door for the chance to create in the Maker Lab. She only has room for two classes of twenty-five students, fifty in all, but it’s a pretty good problem to have.


Jackie also pushes for girls to join her in the Maker Lab. “Any time I have the choice, I always make sure that girls make up at least half the class. In my regular electives, they don’t quite make up half, and in one of my eighth-grade electives, unfortunately, the numbers are very low for girls, which is hard on them,” she said. “But our goal is to very quickly have classes always be 50/50 and represent our student population.”

Here are Jackie’s advices for other educators thinking about entering the Maker community. “Don’t be afraid to start!” she said. “Find people who are a step ahead of you. In the Maker world, we want to support other people. Anything that’s taken me a long time to figure out, I would love to help someone figure it out quickly, and that’s the Maker mindset. We’re all about sharing.” She went on to say, “I want to help teachers [get into the Maker community]. If teachers want to get in, we have to support them in figuring out where the network is for them to get the help they need. Twitter is a good place. I’m only just building my network on Twitter right now.”


As Jackie’s program and network grow, we hope to see her methods and passion spread. It takes a lot to build a sustainable program, like how Jackie uses SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids and her 3D printers to construct, but she is a Maker. And she’s going to make something amazing.

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