Palm Crest Elementary fifth-graders learn design using 3-D printers

When the final bell at Palm Crest Elementary School rings, most children head straight for the parent pickup lanes and the promise of a swift exit. But for a group of 12 fifth-graders, that's when the real fun begins.

Just three sessions into a 10-week after-school class intended to teach the basics of 3-D design, students are already walking away with objects they've created using professional-grade software.


They might use the hour to design toys or tiny rooms with accurately dimensioned staircases, working from an assignment or independently. Then instructor Tara Hall, who works at Palm Crest as a reading interventionist by day, prints the creations out on the computer lab’s Bukobot 3D printer, a gift from the school’s PTA.

In a class Monday, Hall distributed the hi-tech handicrafts to a group of eager students. William Suh, 10, showed off a sign he'd made, spelling out YOLO (you only live once), while classmate 10-year-old Laura Konefat curiously examined a tiny cube-shaped creation.

"I tried to make a sphere out of squares," Konefat explained, picking at small raggedy edges of composite material left by the printer.

Afterward, Hall engaged students in an exercise that asked them to design an elephant using specific dimensions in SketchUp, 3-D design software typically used by engineers and architects in the building of large-scale projects. Future classes will feature Tinkercad, which allows for even more versatility, she said.

That day's elephants were more about precision than play, and Hall explained why.


"Eventually, they'll have the freedom to make whatever they want," she said. "But if they want to make an object that's functional, they need to learn exact dimensions."

For a final project, Hall envisions students reimagining the city of La Cañada Flintridge and breaking up into teams to design and build its essential features.

That's a task Hailey Chee seems up to.

"Designing stuff is fun. I always thought 3-D printing was cool," said Chee, who downloaded SketchUp at home to check it out before class began.

The 11-year-old admitted she likes designing houses, and would like to try her hand and creating animals. Hall will encourage those efforts, knowing, as Palm Crest parents certainly must, today's tinkering with figurines could someday lead to heart valves, prosthetics, 3D printed clothes, food and more.

"The goal is to teach them the real-world applications of 3-D designs," Hall said.


Sara Cardine,

Twitter: @saracardine