Innovation Academy - University of Florida

Students Innovate Child Development with 3D-Printed Designs

Marble-Us Dual Gear Maze created by Andrew Seelye, Cameron Hassen, Jessica Nisenbaum, Michael Berube,  and Tommy Davis.

Students in Creativity in Context—IDS1353— finished their final projects this February and impressed both their professors and peers with their sophisticated child development toys made completely on 3-D printers. In collaboration with Infinity Fab Lab, a digital fabrication space available at Infinity Hall, IA students utilized their skills in creativity, design thinking, and prototyping to create full-functioning learning tools for children.

Professor Charlie Cummings leads the introductory course but thinks there is much more to the class than just using 3-D printing. “We’re actually trying to get them think of creativity as something you learn, practice, and develop,” Cummings said. The class focuses on the different applications of creative thinking through collaboration, lecture, and discussion. “We’re challenging the idea that creativity is exclusive to artists.” Cummings, a studio artist himself, says the class is about teaching these creative tools through a different lens. Throughout the semester, the course incorporates team-building exercises, daily creativity challenges, and theory-based discussions.

Cameron Hassen, a team member on the Marble Us prototype, felt the most rewarding part of the class was not the high-tech equipment or futuristic technology. “Communication, persistence, and decision making—they’re all things that are great to have in your ‘tool belt’ for the real world,” Hassen said. “These skills are not something that you study and then forget after a test.”

Academic Coordinator Amy Bucciarelli, involved in curating the course material, said the course is laying a foundation for the practical skills and mindset needed to succeed in all other courses and careers. From its inception last year, the 3-D component of the class has not only given students an introduction to the design thinking process—a problem-solving methodology used in companies like Google and IBM—but has given some students their very first opportunity to create hands-on, physical prototypes. “We recognized that students coming into college as freshman had very little making or building experience,” Bucciarelli said. “They have grown up in a virtual world—some have never even built with Legos as kids.”

The connection with Fab Lab offers students the experience of creating a physical prototype from their imagination, which many students utilize far after the Creativity in Context class is over. IA Director Dr. Citty could not be happier with the course’s results. "The addition of the 3D printing and laser cutter lab module into the course is essential in providing IA students with exposure to sophisticated prototyping equipment in their first year so they can use what they learn throughout their career at UF." He hopes an introduction to the resources available to students—from fabrication labs to creative problem solving methods-- will inspire students to continue in their pursuit of innovative thinking.