The answer is a definitive YES!
During the past 4 weeks we tested this hypothesis as follows:
MacGyvrBot, a Personal Manufacturing Robot (also known as a table-top 3D-Printer) and Skip Meetze (both affiliated with INTERLOCK) volunteered to be part of the team teaching 4th, 5th and 6th Graders at School No. 52 in the Rochester City School District. The 4 weeks of Tech Camp ran 3 mornings per week. Michael Slade (another volunteer) and Susan Reuter (the teacher) rounded out the instructional team, and 20 students developed their skills at rapid prototyping while having fun learning some principles of physics.
The students each constructed an America's Cup Toy Boat Kit (an STL file for the design can be downloaded at America's Cup Toy Boat Kit by MacGyvrBot - Thingiverse) with soda straws and parts made on a Printrbot LC (Printrbot LC (v2) | printrbot). Then they conducted a "shoebox regatta" where the sailboats were each sailed in a plastic shoebox half full of water. The boats successfully (1) sailed on a reach (with wind from the side) (2) from one end of the box to the other, (3) without touching the side of the box, and (4) under the power of a student gently blowing through a straw from the side of the box. This activity taught the students the basic principles of sailing while they developed confidence in their new skills of measuring materials (the straws) and assembling rapid prototypes (the boats) as MacGyvrBot chugged out the plastic parts right before their eyes.
At the end of the camp, students evaluated their experience by **(anonymously) rating some of the lessons presented.**
The Students' ratings clearly show that using the 3D Printer and CAD are at the top of the list of things they would like to do again.
A warning about Tinkercad:
There were special work-around requirements that we encountered for safely using the current version of Tinkercad with young students, and they will be further discussed in a later posting. Tinkercad is resident on the internet cloud and not on the local computer, so continuous adult supervision is required (with an adult logged into the website) for Tinkercad to be safely used by kids (else the child's access to sharing on the internet will be unsupervised). Autodesk, the new owner of Tinkercad, is working on eliminating this requirement.
Parents and teachers, stay tuned…
More about what we learned from participating in the Tech Camp will be discussed in later postings. One of the neat things about rapid-prototyping in the classroom is the ease with which teachers, parents and designers can share their designs and ideas with each other.