3D printing in the Multivariable Calculus classroom

As the sole teacher of Multivariable Calculus at Oak Ridge High School, I often struggle with finding others to collaborate with to develop best practices for developing students’ three-dimensional visualization skills. For the first few years of teaching this course, I would find common objects that resembled elliptical paraboloids, hyperbolic paraboloids, and hyperboloids of one sheet, but this was not always easy. Sometimes I built models out of skewers and paper. As my models became more sophisticated, I felt my students had a better grasp of the objects we were discussing in mathematical terms. The biggest issue was I was never able to match a model to an equation. The models were just general models with no solid connection to mathematics.

The opportunity to begin 3D printing mathematical models has changed all of this. As I explored the Ultimaker community I found many different people were 3D printing three-dimensional mathematical models. I was inspired by the work of Laura Taalman, a.k.a. mathgrrlElizabeth Denne, and Henry Segerman. Their work demonstrated the ease with which accurate mathematical models could be made using 3D printing. Many of their designs could easily be incorporated into my classroom with few changes, and this was a starting point for my interest in incorporating 3D printing into my classroom as a teaching tool. As I reached out to the organizers of the Pioneer Program they pointed me in the direction of the best software to use to build mathematically accurate models for 3D printing.

After receiving funds from the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation for filament, I was able start 3D printing on our school’s printers. I utilized MathMod and MeshMixer, to build models of a number of quadric surfaces, including parabolic cylinders, hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids of one sheet, and cylinders.

 As I prepare to teach Multivariable Calculus this winter I am looking forward to developing more models for use in the classroom, as well as engaging the students in 3D printing activities relevant to their coursework.

Original Article from Ultimaker.com Written by Deanna L. Pickel