3D Printed Entomology

When I first got the 3D printer my mind swam with different ideas of how to use it in my classroom. You can see my first brainstorm here. I find the process of choosing what actually gets used in the classroom to be interesting. I thought I had some really good ideas, and some were at the top of my list to get started on as soon as school began. Of course things change when they move from an idea to reality. Some things just don’t pan out. Maybe the teaching standard isn’t there, or other projects take precedent. Out of all my initial ideas, one on my list that I didn’t think was going to amount to much turned into one of the first, and the best, project that I have done yet. As I spoke with other educators and started thinking about my curriculum, the little idea of looking at bugs quickly became the project I was most excited about. I realized that it fit with our 4th grade science and language arts standards, it made great use of other technology tools that we have, and it was full of room for creative students to work. It began by studying ecosystems. We defined them learned about how living and non-living things interact, and looked at different ones. We even participated in a live webcast from the Tundra. The kids loved that. Then I gave them a writing prompt;

You are an entomologist. You have discovered a new insect in the Room 30 Ecosystem. Write about your discovery. Be sure to include a description of what the insect looks like, where it lives (it’s habitat), what it eats, how it contributes to it’s ecosystem, what adaptations is has to help it survive, and other information from your brainstorm. Your journal entry must include at least 8 of the following vocabulary:




seed dispersal










After they wrote about their insect, they were instructed to draw a picture and label the different parts of an insect. Students were pointed to entomology websites, and some brought in real insects to observe. This helped them  to properly label their insects.

Once their insect existed in their minds and in their journals, they started creating them on an iPad using an app called 123D Creature. While they were creating their insects they were also writing a description of the “Room 30” ecosystem in which the insects were discovered. Here’s the writing prompt I gave them for that.

Write a paragraph or two that describe the Room 30 Ecosystem where you discovered your insect. Be sure to include the following:

1. A description of the classroom

2. What living and nonliving things are found in the ecosystem

3. How the living and non-living things interact and how the living things need the non-living things to survive

4. Correct spelling

5. Indent

6. Write in complete sentences

7. Use correct grammar

As the students finished sculpting their insects they uploaded them to a shared account on Autodesk.com. Then we downloaded the insects to a computer connected to the 3D printer and started printing them.

The first insect printed. It's natural habitat is inside the class printer.

The first insect printed. It’s natural habitat is inside the class printer.

While students were waiting for their insect to print they wrote one more article. This one was about the “entomologist” who discovered the insect.

Write a biography on your fake entomologist. Make sure you write in the 3rd person. You are not talking about yourself, you are writing about Dr. _______. To write your biography please include the following:

1. The name of your Dr. (that’s your name)

2. Where they received their Ph.D.

3. Why the Dr. is interested in studying insects

4. What their most notable discoveries are

5. Describe how the Dr. discovered the insect in Room 30

6. What their favorite insect is and why

7. Anything else you can think of.

8. Be sure to write in the 3rd person.

9. Indent.

10. Write in complete sentences

11. Check spelling and grammar

 You will also need to take a picture of the Dr. in action. Have a partner take a picture of you while you “study” or “discover” you insect.

2013-12-04 12.20.16

Some of the first insects to be printed.

At this point in the unit students had their 3D printed insects and were taking observation pictures around the class. When they weren’t “observing” their insects, they were putting their writing pieces into the Pages for iPad newsletter template that we chose. They were also given the task of creating a nature video of their insect. The app iMotion was previously downloaded to our class iPads and they were able to make a stop motion animation using their insect. The video was then imported into iMovie where they voiced over their footage. This video was uploaded to YouTube and the students then created a QR code, which they inserted into their newsletters.

The final product was a very nice newsletter with 3 articles, images, and a qr code that takes the reader to their nature video. In addition to the newsletter, we labeled and mounted the insects to our class bulletin board.

Student Sample of Newsletter

Student Sample of Video


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About Clark Barnett

Clark Barnett has been an educator for 13 years. He currently creates and innovates with his 4th grade students in the Conejo Unified School District using 3D printing, arduino electronics, and whatever else they can imagine with. He agrees whole hardheartedly with Seymour Papert who said, "The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge." Mr. Barnett earned his Master of Education degree in learning technologies from Pepperdine University.

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