Firstly, I want to apologise for being off the grid for so long. Personal stuff got in the way, as it always does, and passion projects like this one had to be put on hold for a while. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I stopped teaching, and while there have been lessons with new students that I have repeated, there have been a lot of lessons using new apps and new techniques that I want to share. Who knows? Maybe by the end of the year, there will be enough material to warrant a second volume of the
best modestly selling ebook “Confessions of a Media Arts Teacher”. We’ll see.
So, I wanted to start with a doozy. 3D Printing with Minecraft! Something I’ve been trying to figure out for ages, until I found out that the folks over at Mojang slipped a little thing in an update called “structure blocks”. But more of that in a minute.
Ok, where am I? Almost a full year behind unfortunately. Last year – my second year doing Media Arts – we were lucky enough to have our parent committee buy us a small, relatively inexpensive 3D Printer. So, term 2 expanded to include 3D Modelling. I wanted each year level (with the exception of the preps) to experiment with a 3D app and create something. Obviously, the older the kids, the more complex the app.
Trouble is, discounting the Preps, there are over 500 students. Obviously I can’t go ahead and print everyone’s amazing creations. Aside from the cost, it would take about 10 and a half months of continuous printing (I checked). So this is what I proposed.
Students work in pairs anyway. Each pair would create a 3D model according to the app and the project I outlined. Then, we would put the models up on the computer screens around the room. Each student from each class was given two tokens. The tokens represented votes. They were not allowed to vote for their own model. They had to put one token on one model, and one token on another. This way, I tried to alleviate people “power voting” just for their friends. The two models that had the most votes, got theirs printed – one for each student. Still a lot of work, but more manageable. Four models printed from each class in the school.
Some models printed beautifully, others not so much. The ones that didn’t had a little to do with my inexperience with printing in 3D as well as the students making something that just wasn’t print-friendly. I’ll go into the problems when I get to each post.
Ok, with that in mind – MINECRAFT!
Ok, this is a good one to start with because many (MANY) of the students at this age (8-9 years old) know Minecraft a hell of a lot better than I do. They’ve been doing 3D modelling for years and not really been aware of it. It seems perfect, if there was a way to 1) Export an area as a 3D file; and 2) Print that file using an everyday domestic 3D printer.
There are programs that do this – MCedit comes to mind – but I was looking for a solution that was easy enough for the students (and for me) to do this properly.
Introducing the Structure Block! Now, this post is in no way an attempt to teach the basics of Minecraft. There are tons of resources and videos on YouTube that do that. So, assuming that you know how to install the program, create a world, and build a structure, all you need to do is place the structure block right near the building you want to export and enter in the X, Y and Z values of the size. You don’t need to enter coordinates, as you might if you are using the commands FILL or CLONE for example, but just to work out how many blocks your structure goes along each axis. It takes a little trial and error – and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and you need to put the structure block at a different corner of the building, but it works!
The structure block is not found in the usual inventory, even if you are in creative mode. You have to type in a command to get it. You press / to get to the chat and type “/give @s structure_block” (without the quote marks) where @s means yourself.
I should say as well, that it’s important that the structure is printer friendly. Anything too complicated or top heavy, for example, will probably collapse or not print properly. Now, it will export just fine, but as far as sending it into a printer, simpler is better. You could build a house and then just fill it all in. It takes longer to print, but it will be nice and sturdy. Or you can have it hollow as long as you have a proper frame around it.
Lastly, when you export the file, it will export with all the textures and colours you chose with your blocks. It creates a file in the *.glb format. You can even load up the file in a 3D program (like TinkerCAD for example) and continue working on it. However, when it prints, it will print in the one colour, with no sense of whether you used (for example) stone bricks or wooden blocks or whatever. Just so you know. I use 3D Builder (more of that program in a few posts) to examine and edit as I need to, as well as to save it as an STL file so it will print on my printer. Or you could just as easily use Adobe Photoshop as well.
The video below shows how to use the structure block. For me, I use Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition, but the process works fine using the Windows 10 app, and I believe the Mac app as well.
If you want to do this with your students, I strongly suggest having a go with it yourself first and be familiar with what works well, and doesn’t work well with the printer.
Needless to say, my students were highly engaged with this activity. The idea that they could use a program they know very well and print out their creations in the real world just blew their minds!
Let me know in the comments how your models worked out! I’d love to see some other examples!