Teacher Talk: Cell Organelles in 2+ Dimensions in 5th. Grade

December 7, 2018

5B Science with Ms. Sem/Makerspace with Ms. Finkle

Students in Mrs. Sem’s fifth-grade science class are learning about the form and function of cells.  Their studies reveal that cells, like our own bodies, are made up of specialized units within that work together to perform all the necessary processes for life.  Diving deep to understand the various kinds of organelles and their functions in different kinds of cells, students created these models in TinkerCAD which were printed on the 3D printer.

What makes these models so extraordinary, both in appearance and in accomplishment, is that they are not designed as true 3D models but in 2+ dimensions.  The prints are able to show the details of the models using multiple colors because the designs are created as color layers like in traditional block printing.  This method of creating models is more challenging than true 3D. Students not only had to understand the form and function of the cell organelle and design their ideas in the modeling software, they had to reimagine their design into 2-4 “layers of color”, use the scribble tool in TinkerCAD to create each of those layers, and then arrange those layers into the final models to be printed.

The next challenge is printing these models.  3D printers create plastic parts by depositing a thin layer of melted plastic (0.2mm) over and over again to build up a structure.  Our printers can only print one color at a time and must print the entire layer before moving up to the next layer. To change colors, I have to pause the printing at the precise time, unload the filament of the finished color, reload the filament of the next color and restart the printing.  Looking closely at the parts, you can see the layers, and how this process is leveraged to create multi-colored 2+ dimension models.

Each print took between an hour and two and a half hours to print.  There is no automatic way to detect when one layer is done, and timing is crucial.  All the models in the class were printed using the same color scheme to lend a sense of connectedness to the collection, which includes the Mater Christi School colors, and clear or black where appropriate.  The most important layer on each model is printed in special light blue glow in the dark filament. After the students use their models to present the form and function of their cell organelle to the class, they will take them home.