Kids design toys and watch them being made with PieceMaker Technologies

[Carnegie Mellon University has become a haven for spin-off companies. I work with two – Birdbrain Technologies and Zulama. In this NEXTPittsburgh article you’ll discover a new, consumer direction for 3D printing – personalized toys and paraphernalia for youngsters (in age or at heart). ]

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Think of Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar as the next best thing to elves at Santa’s workshop.

Through their innovation, youngsters can design a toy on a computer then watch it being manufactured on the spot.

Pittsburgh-based PieceMaker Technologies, the company that Carnegie Mellon University classmates Rosenblatt and Sklar founded in 2013, is delivering the capabilities of 3D printing to an appreciative customer base, with a couple of industry giants on board.

On the heels of a successful local venture with Toys “R” Us Inc., PieceMaker last month announced a partnership with Nickelodeon for on-the-spot manufacture of the likenesses of such favorites as Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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Designing, Building and Iterating

[In many schools the opportunity to tackle the “E” – Engineering – in STEM is quite challenging. Here’s an example from Mindshift that outlines a program with Boeing that provides students with real world experiences to look at designing wind turbines. In the Pittsburgh area there are many districts integrating design challenges and activities into their curriculum. I’m working with the Energy innovation Center and Parkway Way Career and Technology Center in Pittsburgh to develop a series of design activities where students put on a consultant’s hat to address the design challenge.]

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The design and engineering process is an important part of the Next Generation Science Standards, but it can be difficult for teachers to work in challenges that feel authentic and relevant in the real world. Several public school teachers in Seattle and Houston worked with Boeing engineers to develop engineering curriculum that both meets required standards and gives kids a chance to build something with their hands. The Teaching Channel documented some of the lessons in practice. In the video below, students in Houston are exploring concepts of lift and drag while designing wind turbines.

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Thirsty Plants

ThirstyPlant_3449493k[The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, showcased 10 examples of innovative digital design at the London Design Festival. Here is only educational selection – a  DIY maker kit for kids, designed by educational startup Technology Will Save Us. The startup has a great list of resources and projects that can be used anywhere in the world.]

The kit teaches users to make their own moisture sensor out of plaster of paris and nails. Twist together your circuit and power it all with a solar panel that will tell an LED to flash when your plants need watering. I bet we can have students come up with something even better.