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3D Prints for Teachers of the Visually Impaired

Visually impaired students can make great use of 3D prints to learn just about any subject, but their teachers need help making good models.

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Often students with visual impairments have difficulty with concepts based on visual/spatial relationships, particularly in math and science. 3D prints offer an unprecedented asset for their teachers, and 3D printers are becoming affordable. But these teachers need help designing models. [Whosawhatsis] and I have been volunteer mentors to various groups working on figuring out the best ways to use 3D printing for the visually impaired. Our goal with this project is to document some simple, practical conventions for designing models, and lay the groundwork so that interested parties can create the needed designs. We know that schools have 3D printers and want to teach design thinking to their students. This project creates a minimalist open-source way to link teachers who need design files and (sighted) students who want projects to do. We want students to create the designs for the needed models, learning science, math and other subjects while helping their visually-impaired peers.

There are several groups trying to organize databases of 3D printable files for the visually impaired. We want to link the Hackaday community to these groups. After writing our 3D Printed Science Projects book (which came out in May 2016 from Apress - some pictures in the gallery are projects from the book) we realized how hard it is to create a really good model of abstract science concepts. It is also true that a large part of the population are tactile learners, and they may learn math and science better if there are objects out there that really capture difficult concepts.Of course there are many objects out there, but a lot of them either do not print or print with difficulty, are not optimized for a blind person to use, or might be technically wrong in their representation or not tagged in a way that a teacher can find them. Here's our project video that will give you the big picture::

Bigger projects needed by a particular teacher might be good for student groups to take on as well - here is one we mentored at Pasadena City College, where the students made a portable Braille map of a nearby elementary campus.

Our builds below will describe our experiments as volunteers in this sphere, and define the issues we have learned about that will need to be solved to make it easier for teachers who need a model to find a student or hacker who could make them one, and also develop some guidelines so that people new to making these models do not have to discover everything we did.

We have created a basic Google Group to let Teachers of the Visually Impaired post requests for models they wish they had. Teachers with students who want a good project can reply and "claim" a model for their students to try. See the Instructions for details.

Our project logs discuss how best (and when) to print Braille on a model, and other issues that are sometimes not immediately obvious.

Next steps to grow this effort will be:

- Learning what works and what does not from our "Minimum viable product" Google Group.

- Working more with the Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) community to define more designs they need

- Recruiting teachers at all levels (K-12 and college CAD classes) to have their students make these designs.

- Working to develop and capture a body of knowledge (a wiki?) about best practices

- Seeing how best to collaborate with existing design repositories.

The logs are a chronology of our evolving understanding of the problem. It will probably make the most sense if you sort the logs to read the oldest log entry first.

Please comment and make suggestions!.

  • 1 × 3D Printer and filament Users (teachers of the visually impaired) will need a 3D printer to create objects. These models should work on the average consumer FDM printer.
  • 1 × Printable files as linked in the log descriptions, or in replies in the Google Group.

  • New school year - need a project?

    Joan Horvath5 days ago 0 comments

    We are gratified that we have so many people following this project. Our Google Group is out there with a lot of teachers of the visually impaired asking for models now. However, there has been very little fulfillment of requests. Unless something has a stamp "fulfilled" it is up for grabs! (Or if you have a cool model and it's been fulfilled, post it anyway. Why not!)

    As a reminder, here's the group. Instructions are linked there, if it's been a while.  Also, if you are interested generally in math and science modeling, check out our progress on this year's prize  project, Hacker Calculus.

  • Come on out and design!

    Joan Horvath04/17/2017 at 03:54 0 comments


    I see we have a lot of new followers lately, which is awesome! I thought I'd note that many of the teachers who have posted a request for a design have not yet gotten anything. If you have a bit of time on your hands, or a student needing a volunteer project to do, please check out the requests that do not yet have a "FULFILLED" tag. The Google Group is here and there are plenty of requests! You do NOT need to make an actual physical model. Just the design is a big help (many of these teachers have access to a 3D printer.)

    Or if you're a teacher of the visually impaired, please go ahead and post what you need. I remain hopeful that we'll spool up some group energy and get the requests fulfilled.

  • New book of 3D printable science projects coming out

    Joan Horvath04/09/2017 at 21:10 0 comments

    If you are here because you are looking for 3D printable science projects, we have another book now up for preorder (at Amazon and at our publisher, Apress.)

    Meanwhile, we are waiting to see how the models posted by volunteers are turning out - if you claimed a model and created it, please post a link to the group, too, as well as to the requester. We think there are a lot of folks who can use the models beyond those who asked!

    We are working on our new Hacker Calculus project, too. Drop by there to see what's up if you haven't yet... more to come.

  • Where we are going next: Hacker Calculus

    Joan Horvath03/28/2017 at 04:39 0 comments

    We learned a tremendous amount doing this project, and now we want to take this to the next level. Please check out (and follow and like!) our 2017 Hackaday Prize entry, Hacker Calculus project link. We look forward to hearing what you think!

    Picture of orbits of planets 3D printed. Base is orbit shape, height is speed the planet is going in its orbit. From "3D Printed Science Projects" by Horvath and Cameron, Apress 2016.

  • Interlude: how to get more folks using 3D printers well

    Joan Horvath03/06/2017 at 23:26 0 comments

    We have been busy trying to figure out how to scale our Google Group and what types of 3D prints people actually want to teach their students, and have been excited that some undergrads at University of North Carolina have jumped in as part of a community project they are doing. We're looking forward to their updates!

    Meanwhile, we have recognized that part of this is that people need to learn how to make real stuff with a 3D printer. If any of you local folks want a deep dive into 3D printing in person, we are doing a live class aimed at making useful parts, at the SupplyFrame DesignLab in Pasadena. Registration is here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/3d-printing-to-make-useful-parts-tickets-31950527889
    We also now have a 4 week long online class through LERN Network (outsourced online classes for lots of community college extension programs) specifically about developing math and science models. If you hurry you could still sign up - it's four weeks online, starting now. If not it'll be offered again in May. http://www.nonscriptum.com/classes

    How can we get more folks to be less scared of 3D printing? That seems to be a lot of the barrier now. Let us know your thoughts.


  • Another model - Braille letter tiles

    Joan Horvath01/03/2017 at 23:45 0 comments

    [Whoawhatsis] realized that he could slightly change his OpenSCAD Braille model to fulfill a teacher's request for tiles that each have a lower-case letter plus the Braille equivalent of that letter, to use to teach students Braille. So, he went ahead and created a set, using the principles we have discovered thus far. (For instance, printing Braille on vertical faces.)

    Braille letter tiles completed on a 3D printer, standing in vertical rows

    These are now available in the Google Group or on Youmagine.

    They've been downloaded 21 times in 2 days. They even fit very tidily in one of those 0.14 liter "Really Useful Boxes" from Staples. The tiles are small, and so most appropriate for a school environment away from anyone who might want to try and eat them.

    Braille tiles in a plastic box

    There are a lot of requests on the Google Group - if you know how to do 3D modeling, how about a New Year's resolution to create a model a teacher needs for a blind student? Jump on over to the group, pick an open request, and go for it. Instructions in the Instructions section here, or linked on the Google Group. Happy New Year!

  • Scientific American blog post

    Joan Horvath11/09/2016 at 19:21 0 comments

    We were pleased that Scientific American let us write a guest blog about this project.

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/teaching-blind-students-with-3-d-prints/

    We plan to continue to publicize this idea and keep this project going, even though the Prize is over. We think it is a community need and that it may evolve and morph, the core idea is that we can do more as a community of makers than any of us can do alone. We will update the project as events warrant, and comments are always encouraged.

  • Community Update

    Joan Horvath10/21/2016 at 03:26 0 comments

    It t has been a busy couple of weeks! We were excited to hear that this project has made it into the final round of the Hackaday Prize. It has been great to build this community of people who take the time to follow this project.

    Another good thing that has happened is that we've been hearing about groups developing 3D printable models for the visually impaired elsewhere, and we are in the process of tracking these groups down and seeing if they would like to join forces in some way. (Any other suggestions for collaboration are welcome- feel free to send us notes in the comments or send a private message.)

    We took an assortment of our models to a Hackaday meetup in Pasadena in a bar a few days ago, where it became something of a magic trick to remind everyone of their middle and high school geometry. (Rest assured that we just used water to prove that the models were all the same volume- no stronger beverages were harmed in testing this project!)

    Our big issue now is that we have enthusiasm on the part of teachers of the visually impaired, but we still need people to take on creating the models. We suspect that the main issue is that it's not yet the "project time of year" in schools, and we may get upticks as CAD classes get to the point where students can take on a project. If you know civic groups, hackerspaces or teachers who might love this project, please pass it on!

  • Growing the Community

    Joan Horvath09/28/2016 at 00:08 0 comments

    We were thrilled to get our first "in the wild" collaborator, a group that volunteered to make Braille letter tiles that help kids learn Braille.

    We also heard that the first teacher of the visually impaired (that we know about, anyway) printed and used the constant-volume cones. He sent us this picture of the student learning the same way we show us testing it in our video.

    Pair of hands pouring water from cone to cylinder

    Speaking of our video, you can watch it here. Rich used YouTube's captioning tools so as many people as possible could understand what we are trying to do.

    Now we will keep publicizing the project and encourage groups wanting a fun 3D design project to jump in and claim a model to do. We look forward to your comments!

  • The Value of Networking

    Joan Horvath09/21/2016 at 20:48 0 comments

    We had the opportunity of presenting this project in a Lightning Talk at the Hackaday Pasadena meetup last night. In particular we asked people to help out with creating the designs that teachers of the visually impaired had asked for. Afterward a few folks who teach or are taking CAD classes at the college level came up and asked if they could participate. Of course! We had gotten so focused on K-12 teachers that we had not really reached out to that group. If you have CAD students needing a project, by all means claim one of the categories and go for it.

    Over the last week we have also gotten questions about whether we had reached out to the Special Ed community in general to see if there might be interest from teachers who are helping students with other special needs. Let us know in the comments here or in the Google Group if you have any thoughts on this.

View all 18 project logs

  • 1
    Step 1

    This project has created a Google Group (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/3dp_edu_models) to allow teachers of the visually impaired to post requests for 3D printable model files, and for other educators or community members to post models they create in response.

    How to use the group:

    First, join the group if you want to post.

  • 2
    Step 2

    If you are a teacher of the visually impaired, post a description of the design you want someone to make. (One design per request, please- multiple requests are fine, but please make each one a separate post.)


  • 3
    Step 3

    If you are a school or community group wanting to create designs, read the requests, particularly ones which do not have any replies yet. When you see something you think your students can create, reply to the requestor, ask for any needed clarifications, and then go create it. (Reply first to minimize duplication, although there’s no good reason why multiple people can’t create the same model.) Don't be initimidated here - it's ok if it doesn't work out.

    When done post in any existing repository (YouMagine, Thingiverse, Github, Tinkercad, your website, etc) being sure to document the license you are making it available under. Reply to the original post with the appropriate link when you are done. (If you do not have an established repository anywhere, you might consider starting out at YouMagine.com which has a pretty straightforward registration and posting process - register an account, and then click SHARE DESIGN. The site will guide you through the rest.)

    Google Group members should be at least 18 years old. Designs are the property of the creators, and the responsibility of the creators or if applicable the creator’s parents or guardians. Please note any license restrictions and any suggestions for use and printing in the repository where you place the model. Please do not post STL files or other large files in the google group itself.

    Bear in mind that some users of the site may themselves be visually impaired and using screen readers. (We have made the site as simple as possible for this reason.)

    We figure that we will learn a lot from doing this much, and will consider other options when we see what happens! Please make suggestions in the comments.

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