(Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story appeared in our April 12 issue.)
Fifth graders at the Tunkhannock Area Middle School were busy on Thursday (April 6), trying to puzzle out the best possible way to create a puzzle.
Working with a program called Tinkercad, students assembled a 3-by-3 cube made up of 27 smaller individual cubes on their computer screens, then begin working with the smaller cubes to create a puzzle.
Although it is evident the class is having fun creating their puzzles, they are doing more than just playing a game. Once their projects are completed, the designs will be submitted to Johnson College in Scranton, where six will be turned into physical objects via a 3D printer.
The students are participating in The Rubik’s Cube Design Challenge, a pilot program offered through Johnson College. Tracey Pratt, an advancement specialist at Johnson College, explained that the program is being offered to Tunkhannock at no charge to provide Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math students a hands-on practical application in those areas.
“We want to show them that math and science can be really cool,” she said.
Middle school assistant Principal Dr. Kelly Carroll explained that when she learned about the pilot program, she contacted Johnson College, informing Pratt that Tunkhannock would be interested in participating.
About 80 fifth graders signed up to participate, Carroll explained, and she provided them with the necessary introductory instruction to Tinkercad.
The program provides important instruction to the fifth graders, she said, because high school students use a more advanced program called AutoCAD, which also is used to design and create 3D objects.
Cole Hastings-Goldstein, an adjutant instructor at Johnson College, begins by explaining to the students how the 3D printing process works. Utilizing a series of jet nozzles, the printer sprays layer after layer of material, eventually creating a solid object. Materials range from different types of plastics, metal, wood, cement and carbon fiber.
3D printing, Hastings-Goldstein explains, has become so advanced that it can even create an entire house as a single piece. This prompts a question from student Hunter Kulsicavage, who asks. “Wouldn’t that be extremely expensive?”
Hastings-Goldstein replies no, because many of the costs associated with tradition building - such as labor - are eliminated. The process is now being used in China where housing is at a premium, he said, with each house costing about $10,000.
Following the presentation on 3D printing, Hastings-Goldstein begins explaining how to create a puzzle with Tinkercad, using the various shapes provided by the program.
Although different colors are available on screen, Hastings-Goldstein explains that the file records the parts as white, which is how the 3D printer will create them. But, he said, students will be able to paint the pieces once they are created.
Student Aiden West asks how will the six winning entries be determined, given the fact that each puzzle will only be made up of 27 individual white cubes.
In response, Hastings-Goldstein provides further instruction, showing how Tinkercad can combine certain cubes, forming different sections of the puzzle. He explains that the process is similar to the old video game ‘Tetris,’ in which players fitted together various shapes on screen.
The puzzle cube, Hastings-Goldstein continued, has a simple design, but becomes complex in how its parts are created and fit together.
As the students create various parts for their cube puzzles, Hastings-Goldstein instructs them to virtually take them apart. When some are put back together, the parts do not align properly and instruction is provided on how to correct this.
Asked after the presentation what will be the criteria for the winning puzzles, Hastings-Goldstein explains they will be the ones whose parts are best align when they are put together on the computer screen.
“We’re very appreciative of the opportunity that Johnson College has offered to us,” Carroll said. “And we hope that they will be able to continue to do so in the future.”