Kids learning design thinking with 3d printing.

One of many workshops offered by the Illinois MakerLab over this summer was Project City X, an international education workshop taught by Ron Duncan from University of Illinois Extension, who manages the southern Illinois operations of the Illinois Marketplace and Maker Literacy project ( The workshop was geared toward students ages 8 to 13 and taught problem solving using the design thinking process and created solutions using 3D printing.  

The workshop was based around the story of a group of travelers from Earth in the not-so-distant future who have been sent to a remote planet to build a settlement called City X.  However, soon the travelers encounter challenges and social problems that affect not only themselves but everyone in City X. That’s where the students attending the workshop came in, solving the problems in groups of two or three through a five-step design process.


The first of these steps was Empathy. The students discussed how the travelers must be feeling based on their individual problems, which gave them a better understanding of the challenge at hand. The next was defining the difference between social and personal issues including which major world issue aligned with their challenge. The third was Ideation or brainstorming with only two constraints. The students’ inventions could not have been something that already exists and the ideas must have come from the students themselves.


After the students had their ideas they created prototypes using markers and paper, and then discussed them with peers and teaches in order to help them improve and revise their creations.

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The final step allowed the students to use a simple 3D modeling software called Tinkercad to create 3D models of their inventions. They could then print their designs using one of the many 3D printers in the lab.


At the end of the workshop each group presented their creations to the staff and their parents, explaining the problem, a bit about their design process, and finally the solution. Upon their departure the students were rewarded with a certificate of completion from the Illinois Makerlab,  in recognition of their newfound skills in designing with 3D modeling and printing.