The Origins Of A Shoe String Lab

By David Lewis

From Tech Challenge Participant to Maker Faire Speaker

In 2010 a team from Discovery Charter School entered their device for the Tech Challenge. After an initial set of problems, Riley Lewis, then 12, used the SolidWorks CAD program to do a failure analysis of the device and help the team redesign it. The team went on to good success in the Challenge.

Following on that success, Riley met Jeff Rey, then CEO of SolidWorks, who invited him to the SolidWorks World show in San Antonio as recognition for his work.

At the show relentlessly “tin-cupped” vendors for equipment and software so that he could teach more of the students at his middle school the basics of CAD.

He left the show with enough equipment, connections and encouragement that he was able to start building out the DCS Lab when he got back home. We also started writing about his desire to share the engineering with his fellow students.

Deelip Menezes was good enough to write about Riley, provide us blog space & introduce us to the folks at 3D systems where things began to really take off.

At the May 2011 Maker Faire in California, Riley met Abe Reichental & Cathy Lewis of 3D Systems, who gave the enthusiastic, then 13 year old, a Rapman 3.1 3D printer kit from Bits From Bytes and waited to see what we could do with it. By the middle of June and as promised, before the end of the school year, we had the printer up and running. It was also attracting attention of a number of Riley’s classmates.  His long time (since they were two) friend Vernon began to spend more time with us as we learned to use and tune the printer.

When school ended, we made the printer and CAD workstations available to the general 7th grade population and over the summer we had a core group that come out to the “lab” on a regular basis and a lot more folks that came by to see what 3D Design & Printing were all about.

As we experimented with both SolidWorks and the printer, “The Herd” got more competent and comfortable with their designs. We frequently had students in the lab three days a week for 5-6 hours a day. The lab was such a hit that we proposed it as an “enrichment” class for the school beginning in August.

Even though we had  just one hour a week with the students (plus lab time on the weekends), the class was a hit and twelve other kids began learning SolidWorks and 3D printing. We kept on blogging too.

The Lab had also begun to get a little notice from the engineering media and even some of the mainstream writers. In October 2011, Popular Science wrote a short piece on what the kids were doing and later Mashable picked it up as well.

We had also wrapped up the first semester’s work and thanks to my co-teacher, Mike Tuason, we had a working speaker/amp set that each student had designed. We kept learning, designing & blogging.

We moved into the second semester with a refined vision of how to teach the class (start with printing an object) and brought in a new group of kids – this time as young as eleven years old. The new strategy worked well and we began to turn out items, ideas and beginning CAD users all over again.

In March, our key sponsor – 3D Systems, was getting ready to introduce their newest consumer ready printer and they hooked Riley into their Bay Area series of events. For his Spring break, Riley traveled around the Bay Area from Stanford to San Francisco helping to tell the story around 3D Printing and making all sorts of new friends.

At the VLAB stop at Stanford, Riley and Vernon met Dale Dougherty of MAKE Magazine and the Maker Faire. After hearing the story of the “shoestring lab”,  Dale invited them to the Maker Faire to speak about what they had done. 3D Systems was also going to at the Maker Faire which provided the lads (and a lot of friends) with a double reason to go. May turned into a very busy month for the boys.

In addition to the Maker Faire, they also were invited to do a workshop at University of California Santa Cruz for the regional Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) conference. 3D Systems loaned them a printer that could travel and they took the event by storm. The Bits from Bytes 3D Touch captivated everyone at the GATE event and gave many of the students their first look at 3D Printing.

Rather than doing a single twenty minute workshop, they guys were allowed to set the printer up in a atrium space where they ended up doing non-stop demonstrations for more than four hours.

Right after the GATE workshop and just before Maker Faire, Dale Doughtery invited them to the Hardware Innovations Conference at PARC Xerox. Once again the guys were blown away by the innovation and had their creative fires stokes – just in time for Maker Faire. They also made another great group of connections.

At the Maker Faire the guys did booth duty with 3D Systems.

They spoke on the Education Stage.

They helped show off what the other students at DCS had done over the semester with the Rapman printer to create speaker housings and amp boxes based on individual designs. During the build up for the Maker Faire we were running the Rapman almost ten hours a day and it performed with no complaints and no problems.

Next stop? High school.

For more information about the work that the lids are doing, contact Dave c/o  Rileys_Dad@yahoo.com

  • Sounds most excellent. I’ll look out for you in MAKEzine in future!