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3D Printing Debugged

Posted by Sep 27, 2018

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By: Jessica Weber


So what does computational thinking have to do with 3D printing anyways? Turns out a lot!

In this post, I hope to shed some light on how computational practices are evident in student learning while engaged in the 3D design process.


Computational Practices Defined:


Brennan and Resnick (2012) outline key dimensions of computational thinking including computational concepts, practices, and perspectives. They state, “Computational practices focus on the process of thinking and learning, moving beyond what you are learning to how you are learning” (p. 7).


These practices include:

  • being incremental and iterative
  • testing and debugging
  • reusing and remixing
  • abstracting and modularizing


There are many examples of how these practices are embedded in coding activities in the classroom using programs such as Scratch. I contend that students use these very same practices when engaged in 3D design.


Setting the Context:


I embarked on an adventure with my intermediate class to discover the what, why, and how of 3D printing in the classroom environment:

  • What are the benefits and challenges of integrating 3D printing in the classroom?
  • Why should students be exposed to 3D digital tools?
  • How does 3D printing connect with the Ontario curriculum and the development of global competencies?


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The Journey Told:


From the beginning of this journey, we discovered that the ability to persist and overcome challenges was very much a part of 3D design. We experienced setbacks with faulty print jobs, so we learned how to calibrate and control print settings. Our 3D designs, using Tinkercad, were not always successful so we re-assessed and altered components and dimensions. The acronym FAIL became our motto: First Attempt In Learning. This theme of failing forward appeared again and again in student reflections such as this one - “I think that having the 3D printer taught us that it’s okay to fail. Let’s take a step back, look at what’s wrong, and fix it. And figure out how to fix it”. Students learned a great deal about the need to see mistakes as stepping stones. They learned how to ‘debug their designs’ and, in this way, the practice of testing and debugging became very much a part of the learning process.


A few of our projects included constructing our own puzzle cubes, creating monuments to celebrate significant aspects of life in Canada, and designing prisms to hold a specific capacity. Students developed a deep understanding of the iterative nature of the design process - another computational practice. They asked questions, conducted research, generated ideas, created prototypes, and altered designs as needed. Learning became rooted in the process rather than any one product. Learning was social as students asked questions and provided assistance to each other based on skill sets and aptitudes. Collaboration was authentic and feedback and reflection constant.



“By creating an intellectual environment in which the emphasis

is on process we give people with different skills and interests

something to talk about” (Papert, 1980, p. 185).



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Beyond projects such as these, the 3D printer became another way for students to express themselves and share their learning. Creativity was often palpable. They would reuse and remix objects and files to generate their own designs. I recall a student grouping multiple triangles to create a hexagon, and another scaling a gear for a design challenge prototype. Much like students remix in Scratch, students would use .stl files in the construction of their own designs. The intentional use of various components led to some truly amazing creations.




“One of the things I have learned is how to innovate. Innovation to me

is to create something that is unique and to inspire others

with your creations.”  - student reflection







“My interest is in the process of invention of “objects-to-think-with,” objects

in which there is an intersection of cultural presence, embedded knowledge, and the

possibility for personal identification” (Papert, 1980, p. 11).




Seymour Papert eloquently defined the need for tangible objects for students to think and reason with. In this way, I believe he would see the great potential of 3D design in the classroom. Computational practices developed through the use of 3D printing requires an innovative learning environment where the design process can thrive- where students ask questions based on curiosities, develop new knowledge through research and experimentation, create prototypes to suit specific purposes, test their solutions and make refinements, and share their learning with others. The focus then moves to the process of learning, and thinking is made visible through reflection on action.


My hope is for more educators (and students!) to experience the great joy and excitement of learning and experimentation through 3D design. Taking a leap with my students and engaging deeply in design thinking incorporating computational practices led to some of the most powerful professional development I have experienced. Remember to reach out and invite others in to your journey - I could not have done this without the support of my PLN and community partners. There is always uncertainty with experimentation however the benefits are more than worth it. As stated in the 21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion, “Technology is playing more of a role in society as well as in the classroom and can be a powerful tool in enabling deeper learning” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 35).




Brennan, K., Resnick, M. (2012). New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational thinking. Presented at the American Education Researcher Association, Vancouver, Canada.


Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). 21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books


Jessica Weber is a WCDSB educator (currently on secondment) with a passion for propelling student learning through technology integration and infusion of global competencies. Her classroom experience extends from the primary to intermediate divisions where she has pushed boundaries in regards to student driven learning, inquiry, and assessment. She has conducted action research in the area of design thinking & 3D printing. Jessica is a proud graduate of the Master of Education program at Wilfrid Laurier University where her areas of focus centered on leadership, mathematics, and technology integration. As part of her professional learning, Jessica has travelled to China where she led STEM-based activities for middle school students. She is a lifelong learner & avid adventurer who loves to connect with other innovative educators. Twitter: @msjessweber

More and more attention is being given to coding and CT, both in Canada and the world. Our goal is to support educators as they change their practice to allow students the opportunity to learn and thrive in this exciting and important area.



We welcome Ontario Educators to share their coding and CT research and experiences. Please get in touch with us if you would like to contribute or share an idea.


While much of this work seems innovative and cutting edge, we’d like to take the time to remind everyone that research projects and educational programs surrounding computer programming have been around for decades.



We would be remiss if we did not suggest that, while you read the new and innovative work being done by Educators across Ontario, you also seek out the work of Seymour Papert. The “projects and ideas that he developed, starting in the 1960s, laid the intellectual foundation for today’s maker movement and Learn to Code movement.” (Resnick, 2017a, p.1)



While innovative hardware and software captures our eyes and are of initial interest to students, we believe that the development of complex thought processes and competencies merits coding and CT a place in our classrooms.


“Many of Seymour’s seeds are bearing fruit. Today, more children in more places have more opportunities for exploring, experimenting, and expressing themselves with new technologies then ever before” (Resnick, 2017b, p. 3).


We would like to encourage educators to explore coding and computational thinking further, while continuing to view them as valuable tools that allow our students to explore, experiment and express themselves!


Steve Floyd and Lisa Floyd





Resnick, M. (2017a). The Patron Saint of Making and Coding. Hello World, issue 1, Spring 2017.

Resnick, M. (2017b). The Seeds That Seymour Sowed. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction.





Steve Floyd has over 15 years of experience teaching computer science and computer engineering in Ontario. He was the recipient of the 2017 CSTA Award for Teaching Excellence in Computer Science and has worked on a number of coding and computational thinking projects with elementary and high school teachers across Ontario. Steve is currently pursuing his PhD at Western University where he is investigating Computer Science and Computational Thinking in K-12 education. Steve is also an elearning course writer and developer and has worked closely with both the Ministry of Education and private companies to help develop digital citizenship and financial literacy apps for students.


Lisa Anne is an advocate for introducing students and teachers to the world of coding. She is a PhD student at Western University where she is focusing on best practices for professional learning in computer science and STEM. Lisa Anne was recently admitted into Waterloo University’s Society of Descartes Medallists for her contribution to math and computer science education in Ontario. She has taught in the Western’s Bachelor of Education program for four years, receiving the 2016 and 2019 Award for Excellence in Teaching in an undergraduate program.  Lisa Anne has her Masters in Mathematics Education and likes to consider research and evidence-based practices while integrating coding ideas across all subject areas. She loves to share her passion for creative coding and digital making tools with students and teachers at school districts and educational conferences across Canada and beyond. Lisa Anne is on a leave of absence from the Thames Valley District School Board, where she has years of experience teaching secondary Computer Science, Math, Science and Experiential Learning.



We asked three educators in Ontario three questions related to
their experience with coding and computational thinking.



Greg Burns is a Computer Science and Co-op teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board.

Ian McTavish is a Computer Science Teacher, Librarian and Robotics Mentor with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

Lynnette Raffin is a Computer Science teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.




Describe what you observed as students were engaged in coding/computational thinking activities.


Greg Burns: Students really wanted to show others what they were doing, some wanted to work on it at home or didn't want to stop the activity.


Ian McTavish: I often have students that spend two to four hours outside of my class time working on problems. Not because I assign the problems, they simply love the challenge.


Lynnette Raffin: They seemed to develop as problem solvers as they learned to be self-taught. They were often using resources to find the solution to their problems. This empowered them by being able to find the solution on their own.


What were some memorable moments, quotes or experiences from your time working with students in coding/computational thinking activities?


GB: Kids were definitely interested in learning. There was a lot of enthusiasm and one teacher said that the activities engaged some of her students that weren't keen in other areas (grade 1/2).


IM: In one group project there was a group of three students - one female and two males. They came up with a project that pulled all the clothing images and data about the clothing from the American Eagle store. The program then prompted the user to pick an item and it would generate three items that would go with it - if you picked a short sleeve top it would pick shorts, a sweater would pick pants etc.  Watching students debate about whether a pair of shorts matched a blouse was hilarious. It was a very impressive final project.


One of my students started our TechnoGirls program for her project.  I'm proud of our results.  We gave workshops to over 200 elementary female students. One of our first participants is now the captain of our robotics team.


LR: I love when I see students light up when they find the answer to a bug they were trying to fix, or when they see their game working for the first time. I also love empowering students who may not excel in other areas but do excel in coding and CT activities.


What suggestions would you give to someone who is thinking of introducing students to coding/computational thinking activities?


GB: I’d suggest using tried and tested resources to start with - there are quite a few available. Start with a short activity where kids will all have early success.


IM: Play and be inquisitive. You don't need to be the expert but it certainly helps your motivation when your students encounter problems and you can help troubleshoot them.  Keep in mind that skills such as manipulating spreadsheets can be incredibly useful for students (and staff).  Computational thinking is all about deconstructing problems and recognizing the patterns that you can use to solve them.  The computer is simply a tool and the tools will be exponentially more powerful in the future.  What stays the same is the underlying logic.


LR: Be flexible and allow for the students to teach you (and the class) solutions they have found. Sometimes I have to say "I don't know" and that is okay. Oftentimes the students end up finding the answers on their own.


Follow-up questions for educators:

Greg mentioned how students were wanting to work on coding and CT activities outside of the classroom even though homework was not assigned. What does this tell us, as Educators, about the nature of these activities?

Ian described a student project that involved images and data from a clothing retailer. How important is it to allow students choice in terms of the context of their larger projects? How does this choice impact engagement and overall achievement in the activities?

Lynnette emphasized how students developed into independent problem solvers. What is it about coding and CT activities that allow for this to occur? How can we use this knowledge to encourage students to be independent problem solvers in other areas of school and life?

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By: Laura Collins


I am currently working in a Section 23 Kindergarten & Primary classroom in the Toronto District School Board, supporting students who have one or more exceptionalities.  In partnership with a multidisciplinary team, we develop an intensive program for our classes, which typically have up to seven students. I have found that one of the best ways to truly engage my students is by providing them with multiple rich, hands-on, STEAM experiences to develop their computational thinking and to help close achievement gaps. Our end-goal is to prepare the children for a smooth transition back into an inclusive classroom setting.


Robots in Primary - A Scaffolded Approach


My students especially love robots and become experts by the end of the school year! In order to lay a solid foundation first, we do not start with coding robots right away.  Instead, we implement unplugged coding games so that my students can become more familiar with positional language terms such as left, right, forward, backwards, start and stop, as well as learn how to move around on a grid. Some of the unplugged coding activities I have implemented include: retelling and/or helping a character solve a problem in our favourite stories, writing our name in binary, Lego, writing secret codes, procedure/sequencing (e.g., how to plant a seed) and coding a friend. Once I feel that my students can recognize and understand the meaning of different unplugged coding cards and how to move successfully through a grid, I begin integrating robots such as Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot. I continue to encourage students to use coding cards to help them plan and program the robot. Once they master this robot, we move onto programs such as ScratchJr, Lego WeDo, Scratch, Makey Makey and Blockly. I feel that it is really important to provide multiple opportunities for students to become creators, rather than consumers of technology. Robots help to do this effectively by making coding and programming more “visible”. I have been extremely amazed at how successful my students are at collaborating, debugging and problem solving!


Coding and Design Thinking Resources


In addition to coding, I try my best to embed design thinking through authentic problem-based inquiry projects. Inquiry projects allow students to dive deep into the curriculum as they move through the five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. This framework has allowed my students to think critically and develop solutions to solve real-world problems. I co-authored The Goldilocks Coding Project with Melissa Seco (TDSB) from the Science and Innovation in the Kindergarten Classroom Writing Team for the Science Teachers Organization of Ontario (STAO). This project integrates both design thinking and coding. You can download a copy of the resource here. Another example of a project that involves design thinking is one that a student created called "The Dark", which was adapted based on another resource I helped to develop with the STAO Coding and Robotics Writing Team. This student example can be found here and The Energy In Our Lives coding resource can be downloaded here.


I am extremely passionate about engaging learners through STEAM! I have created a website to help document my learning journey and to share some of the writing projects (STAO: Kindergarten/Coding and Robotics/Inquiry/TEL), robot challenges (Dash n Dot Site), student examples (Little Coders/The Dark) and various presentation slide decks. If you are interested, please feel free to visit it here:


I am looking forward to a new year of learning and sharing! Follow @MsLauraCollins on Twitter or @mzlauracollins on Instagram for a peek into my classroom!




laura collins.pngBiography:


Laura is a Google for Educator Group Leader (GEG),  Google certified teacher, TDSB Digital Lead Learner, Section 23 Digital Fluency Chair, Kindergarten Division Lead & PJI educator within the Toronto District School Board. She has taught a variety of subjects in a number of educational roles ranging from Kindergarten - Grade 8.  She is also an Early Childhood Educator. Laura loves all things Google, coding, robotics, STEM/STEAM, as well as any innovation that increases student engagement and builds digital fluency.