Learning To Fail – My First Experiences in 3D Printing

Until the start of 2016, although I was aware of 3D printing as a technology, my only knowledge was from bad press about the technology being used to 3D print guns!

Upon meeting Michelle from the CREATE Education Project at a Headteachers conference and seeing a printer in action, my eyes were opened to the massive educational opportunities this technology provides. I was hooked and delighted when a few months later I was given the opportunity to join the amazing team at the CREATE Education project.

From August 2016 I became a fully fledged member of the team and my learning journey began. I soon learnt how to calibrate a printer, change the filament and produce my very own shiny Ultimaker Robot. However what I didn’t envisage was that there is a bigger learning process at the heart of this technology – learning to fail. You see I received a very good grammar school education in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Although not an advocate of grammar schools, I am grateful for my education as it has afforded me opportunities in life I could only dream of at 11 years old. However I was never taught to fail, in fact I wasn’t allowed to fail. I did fail my GCSE Textiles, getting only a Grade D and have lived with the guilt of pulling the schools A-C pass rate down to 99.7% ever since! Needless to say, I didn’t stay at school for A-levels, choosing instead to embark upon a BTEC in Electronics prior to attending university to study for a degree in the same subject, then training to become a design technology teacher. All of which I managed to achieve without too many failures along the route.

In my professional life I have been involved in driving forward and implementing many successful projects, never allowing failure to be an option. From spending hours creating the perfect lesson plan and student worksheets, to spending weeks developing the perfect curriculum resource for a publisher. The plan always had to be perfect and well executed, often causing much stress in the process. Some would say this an important trait to have and I’ve always taken great pride in my single-minded determination and need for control, although often infuriating colleagues in the process.

And so back to September 2016. I have spent the summer immersing myself in the world of 3D printing, learning lots and dreaming up countless ways of how we can use it across the curriculum, even completing my first curriculum resource “Object of the Week”. Today was different – I started the process of learning to fail.

What I love about Cura is the ability to convert a 2D image into a 3D print. This opens up the world of 3D printing to very young children, just imagine giving them a black marker and a white piece of paper and the awe and wonder of them being able to experience their drawings turned into real objects! So I decided to give it a try, starting with a photograph of a paper snowflake.


My paper snowflake, it was all going well at this point
Into Cura, and here the trouble begins













Although this makes me incredibly uncomfortable to say out loud, I need to admit I have failed. Not once, but time and time again, the printer would not lay down the first layer of the print properly, even with the assistance of a more experienced colleague, we struggled to work out the problem.

I am pleased to say that after a frustrating 4 hours, several re-calibrations and lots of tweaking of the settings in Cura, I have finally succeeded in printing my snowflake.The whole process has been very uncomfortable for me, not only failing but my failures witnessed by my new boss and colleagues that I am keen to impress. Today I didn’t get much work done, but it has probably been my most successful day since joining the CREATE Education Project. I can’t even begin to describe how much I am smiling now, the feeling of being able to work through failure and get a successful outcome is pretty special. But the best part of this experience is how much I have learnt along the way. Without this failure I would never have delved into the more advanced settings in Cura – in fact until today I was apprehensive about touching these incase I messed up and always opted for the “safe” fast print option.

Just a few of the failures
The final result, I got there in the end














So what is the point of sharing this story? Many of you will be only too familiar with and quite comfortable with failing particular with 3D printing, but what about young people who experience failure in different aspects of their lives? Are they being equipped in school to deal with this or even embrace failure? I can’t help but reflect upon recent political discussions around reintroducing grammar schools and a 2 tier education system, with many children seeing themselves as failures at 11 years old if they don’t pass the entrance exam. Is failure a bad thing? Can children learn to embrace failure? Perhaps they can (although it might take me a little while longer). One thing is for sure, with the growing maker movement, tinkering approach to projects and access to 3D printing technology will only serve to help. However in school students need to be provided with opportunities to experience less structured projects with activities that allow them give it a go, using trial and error, and learn from their mistakes. By going through this process not only will they learn to fail, they will developing problem solving, resilience and perseverance skills too.

As for me, this whole experience is only the beginning of my journey in learning to fail, I have a long way to go until I become comfortable with it but I am sure that I will make many more mistakes. My snowflake print is not yet perfect, but I will continue to tweak and improve until it meets my high standards, I am no longer afraid of changing the settings in Cura and if it doesn’t work I will just try again. As for my new boss and colleagues, do they think any less of me? I don’t think so, they were more than happy to share their knowledge and experience to guide me through the process. It proves to them I’m human and proves to me what a great team we have here at the CREATE Education Project.