Math and 3D Printing in the Library

Many school librarians show their creativity by finding ways to collaborate with math classes. It isn’t always a natural collaboration based on the math content. A recent math activity we posted on Twitter and Instagram received a lot of reactions and questions. The activity involved Algebra II students creating a roller coaster based on polynomial equations and then printing the roller coasters using our 3D printers.  Social Media Posts

The Project

Students in Algebra II were learning about polynomials. Using the provided equations, students took the polynomials graphed in Desmos and converted them to a 3D printer file. The 3D printers printed a portion of the roller coaster for students to display with an explanation of the equation and process.

We have done this project for two years and each year we learn a little more and change things a bit.

From Desmos to 3D Printer

I am not a connoisseur of polynomials, so I left this part of the instruction to the experts. I did learn that polynomials are the curves that we would be printing from Desmos, an online graphing program. In Desmos, students added lines below the curve to support the curve when printed. Students then exported the graph without the Desmos grid lines as a PNG file. (Right now, Desmos has a beta version exporting as an SVG file. It did not work for this project at this time.)

Desmos Print Settings

PNG to STL File

Since our 3D printer software would not read png image files, we needed to convert the files to an stl format. Going from PNG file format to STL file format takes a few steps that took us some time to get right. Using an online file converter, the students converted the file from a PNG file to an SVG file. This allows the file to be imported into Tinkercad where students adjusted the file and exported it as an SLT file.

Desmos Export

STL File to 3D Printer

Once in Tinckercad, students double-checked the graph and then adjusted the height of the roller coaster. On the library website, we have a Google Form for students to upload their STL files.

Google Form 3D

3D Printer

Using the spreadsheet info from the form, we begin printing the roller coasters. Students helped us during this project, but since there are so many to print, we usually started at the beginning of the day and the printers continued printing all day.

Completed Project

The first year we did this project, we connected all the roller coaster pieces into one long roller coaster for each class. As you can imagine, the logistics were difficult to get what we needed. This year, we changed it to students printing one section of the roller coaster that they presented to the class in a creative way. Many grabbed shoeboxes or other craft items to help create a display for their coaster.

3D Printing Process

Our Role

In the initial planning, we were involved with determining how to get the file from Desmos to our 3D printers. This took a lot of troubleshooting–determining the file format needed, finding the right conversion tool, and printing several prototypes. We also understood the logistics of our 3D printers and how to get the files to us. We created a step-by-step guide on how to take the PNG file out of Desmos and turn it into the Google Form. We managed the 3D printer files and distributed them to students.

In what ways have you utilized your 3D printers with content areas?  lease share below to help us learn from each other.


Desmos: Online graphing tool

Tinkercad: Online 3D printing file creator

Math Teacher, Mrs. Janousek, Instagram: Algebra II teacher posts her projects and ideas.  She recently posted this activity in her stories.

Online File Converter: Convertio, Vector Magic, or Free Convert

Author: Becca Munson

Becca Munson, Librarian, is a National Board Certified Teacher with over 24 years of experience in education. Becca is the Coordinator for Library Systems in the Blue Valley School District. Previously, she was school librarian at Blue Valley West High School. She opened two buildings in Blue Valley and spent some time as an Ed Tech Specialist before returning to libraries. Becca supports over 45 librarians and support staff as they work to fulfill the mission of flexible scheduling, collaboration, and literacy.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

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