There were no sample curriculums to go off when JJ Johnson began teaching 3D design at Goshen High School, in Goshen, Indiana seven years ago. It was the same situation when he added a 3D printer to his classroom two years ago, so he knows how difficult it can be trying to figure it out on your own.

That's why he jumped at the chance when Steve Wygant, owner of 3D printer manufacturer SeeMeCNC came to him last year and asked him to write an additive manufacturing curriculum.

Johnson named the curriculum SeeMeEducate and has posted it online as a Google Doc.

"The best thing is, it's free, it is open source," Johnson said. "I don't care if anybody takes it and changes it, customizes it, whatever, as long as they attribute me as the original creator."

To be clear though, it is a 3D printing curriculum and does not cover 3D design.

"(Teachers and students) can go in with zero modeling skills and still be ready to 3D print. The curriculum has files that have already been designed and are easily downloaded and printed," Johnson said. "In addition, files can be downloaded from sites such as Repables.com and printed. When they obtain 3D modeling skills, they will be ready to go, printing their own custom parts."

The curriculum is written for use with SeeMeCNC's Orion 3D printer, but it's generic enough to work with virtually any printer with a minimum of tweaking. Johnson hasn't yet determined the best way to integrate 3D modeling because each software package available is so unique.

The curriculum is designed to be two weeks worth of 90-minute class period instruction, but again, Johnson figures it can be easily re-worked to accommodate longer or shorter class periods or students of varying skill levels.

"It would be appropriate for anybody from elementary on up through the college classroom," he said.

The entire curriculum is based on Johnson's experience teaching the subject and is packed with STL files ready to print, such as dog tags that can be printed in about 15 minutes.

"It's filled with fun little takeaways for the students so they can walk away and they've got something in their hands that they printed," Johnson said. "That's a big motivating force for students."
Once they see what 3D printers can do, there isn't a whole lot of need to motivate the students. "It's mainly crowd control, trying to get them to calm down because their minds have been blown because you've created something right before their eyes," Johnson said.
For instance, Goshen High School Senior Spencer Kolbus had no experience whatsoever with any type of 3D modeling or printing. Once Johnson introduced him to it in class, Kolbus went home over the weekend and designed a six-inch long ballista that shoots match sticks.

"Mr. Johnson said we could get the software at home and I thought I might as well try it," Kolbus said. He downloaded the software and designed the ballista in about six hours.

"Mr. Johnson said if we designed something, we could print it out and I said, 'I want to do that. I want to print it out. I want to create something,'" Kolbus said.

And yes, it does work, which is great, but a ballista might not be the best thing to have in a high school classroom. You could probably shoot someone's eye out, "if you're a good enough shot," Kolbus said.

Originally intent on studying computer programming in college next year, Kolbus is now considering throwing 3D engineering into the mix.

Johnson made headlines in December when a paraprofessional assigned to a student with cerebral palsy walked into his classroom and asked for help with her student's walker.

Whenever Ivonne Lopez would hang her book bag on her walker, it would push the seat out and knock her down, so fellow students Evan Smith and Nick Truex designed and printed four clips which attached to a piece of 8020 extruded aluminum to hold the seat in place.

Some teachers attending 3D Printer World Expo's education track earlier this month shared stories of how their school boards were leery of adding 3D printing to the curriculum because it doesn't specifically prepare students to pass standardized tests.

Wygant figures the gradual bleed off of industrial design classes from high school curriculums since the 1980s has done students a disservice.

"We can't all just hand paper back and forth to each other (in the work place)," he said. "There's got to be the makers."

Schools should prepare students for the workplace, he said, and that means playing to their strengths. If a student is naturally inclined to work with his hands, train him to do that.

"They learn how to fish, as the saying goes," Wygant said. "You teach a man to fish and he'll eat for the rest of his life."

SeeMeCNC offers a hardware package for educators. The package runs $1,450 but is not required to use Johnson's curriculum. The package includes:

  • (1) Orion Delta 3D Printer
  • (3) 1 kg spools of PLA (colors will vary based on stock but we will try to get your school colors!!!)
  • (1) 1 lb spool of ABS material to experiment with as well 
  • Dedicated curriculum designed by professional teachers
  • Online forum for teachers to interact and get help on teaching 3D printing in the classroom
  • Dedicated email support/technical support 
  • NO contracts, NO yearly fees, NO ongoing maintenance charges