Shapes into Shelters – SCOPES-DF

Lesson Details

Age Ranges
Fab-Safety.1, Fab-Programming.1, Fab-Modeling.1, Fab-Fabrication.1, Fab-Design.1

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Brian Purvis
Brian Purvis
Brian is the former Manager of Instruction for the GE Brilliant Career Lab, a curriculum centered mobile FAB Lab that served Boston area public high schools.  Previously he led the Gilbert Innovation Hub, where he leveraged his 18 years as… Read More


In this lesson, students deconstruct a picture of a house into its constituent shapes, before using TinkerCAD to recreate that home, shape by shape, digitally. This lesson provides the option to make a physical version of the digital house with a 3d printer. Originally this lesson was created for use in an exceptional education classroom, but it could be appropriate with modifications in a variety of settings.

What You'll Need

Teacher Preparation

Supplies, facility needs, prerequisite skills and knowledge including prior completion of the TinkerCAD tutorials and basic knowledge of 3D printing a file, student types, period length etc. classroom management, THIS LESSON ASSUMES THE STUDENTS HAVE ALREADY CREATED ACCOUNTS IN TINKERCAD, AND HAVE COMPLETED THE TUTORIALS. (for further information on completing these steps please refer to the “In a Jam: A Problem Based Challenge for Sports Medicine” lesson on the SCOPES-df website.

Facility Needs

Class set of internet enabled computers (Chromebooks will work), 3D Printer with generic splint file (included in attachments), pre-printed generic splints for each table, two colors of small post it notes, and writing utensils. Technology needs include a projector/TV with appropriate connection to a computer. The ability to stream video via YouTube.

Materials List

Paper, pencils, a previously 3d printed model of a famous building (local is better, but any recognizable building works), pictures of well known local buildings (these can be digitally projected, or printed in a packet)

Digital Fabrication Software & Equipment

Tinkercad (3D modeling) and 3D printer


The Instructions


See below.

Step One: Engage – ​An engagement that sets the table for the learning objectives and piques student interest in concepts, careers, and fabrication.


10-15 minutes


  • The instructor shows students pictures of well known buildings (architecture) and challenges the students to identify them. (This can be done digitally via the instructor computer and a projector, or analog through previously printed pictures of the same buildings)
  • After the students make their guesses as to the identity of each building, the instructor shares the names and locations of each.
  • The instructor shares the role of an architect in designing buildings and asks them to think about the design challenges an architect would face. (Students will give a variety of answers, but they should be categorized roughly into two subsets: appearance and functionality
  • The instructor informs students that the following activity will challenge them to recreate a piece of architecture using CAD software and then make a model of it using a 3d printer.




See below.

Step Two: Explore – ​Initial hands-on foray into concept.


  • Internet enabled computers


20 minutes


  1. The instructor asks students to search the internet for three local buildings (these could include their home) that are important to them.
  2. Once the students have found their buildings, the instructor challenges them to write a short description of both what makes their appearance interesting AND what function they were designed to serve. (Example: The large golden arches are striking and visible from a distance, setting the restaurant apart from all the other buildings. The drive through on the outside and the play ground inside provide multiple reasons for customers to visit the building.)
  3. The instructor facilitates sharing of the student examples of local architecture. The instructor is looking to both unmask buildings that students may take for granted as architecture, AND provide examples of both appearance and functionality to help students view these buildings through an architectural lense.



See below.

Step Three: Explain – (Connect content with explore and elaborate.)



  • Internet enabled computers, Several simple 3d objects (a ball, a variety of boxes, a pyramid will all do, and are often laying around the classroom)
  • Previously made student accounts in TinkerCAD


20-30 minutes


  1. The instructor shows students a series of 3d objects. With each object the teacher describes the name of the 3d shape, and its 2d equivalent. (example: the instructor holds up a basketball, then explains that the geometric name for the shape of the ball is a sphere, and that the 2d equivalent of the sphere is a circle.
  2. Depending on the receptivity of the class to the concept, the instructor may continue to describe a variety of objects in this way, or may challenge the students to notice objects around the class and describe them accordingly.
  3. The instructor asks students to sign into their TinkerCAD account and click on “Create a new design”
  4. Challenge students to create as many 3d shapes as possible by dragging and dropping shapes from the “basic shapes” menu on the right of the screen to the workplane. Remind students that some shapes can be made by altering other shapes.
  5. The instructor should move around the classroom interacting with students about the shapes they have created, help them create new shapes, and also troubleshoot basic operation of TinkerCAD.
  6. Finally challenge students to manipulate their shapes from 3d to 2d on the workplane. (example: a student might adjust the depth of a cube until it is paper thin and becomes a square.) The instructor should circulate around the classroom celebrating student successes and troubleshooting basic operation of TinkerCAD tools.
  7. If a whiteboard, projector, or chalkboard are available, provide a running list of 3d shapes and their 2d equivalents for student reference.



See below

Step Four: Elaborate: ​(Take content knowledge and utilize it to complete a challenge in design and fabrication process.)


  • internet enabled computer with TinkerCAD
  • perviously sourced (from earlier in this lesson) picture of a building

45-60 minutes or more spread over two days


  1. The instructor ask students to start a new design in TinkerCAD (clearing their workplane)
  2. The instructor shows a picture of a well known piece of architecture to the students via the projector.
  3. The instructor informs the students that their challenge will be to choose one of pictures of architecture they sourced earlier in the lesson, and recreate it in TinkerCAD, shape by shape.
  4. Using the projected piece of architecture, the instructor carefully breaks down the various 2d shapes which make up the picture, and then translate them into the 3d shapes used in TinkerCAD.
  5. Once students show understanding of the challenge, the teacher releases them to meet the challenge and begins moving around the room providing support. (While providing support the instructor may need to discuss scale and proportion (the relative size of parts of the architecture to each other) so that the buildings to not become “bobbleheads” (one part at a different scale than all the others)



See below.

Step Five: Evaluate: ​(Compare student capability to use the content to meet a goal.)

Depending on time, this step in the process can simply end with students sharing their digital recreations of architecture with the class, or may extend to actually printing their file via a 3d printer. In either instance, students should evaluate their final product by comparing it to their original picture.

.(Teachers may want to develop a rubric for scoring this that fits their class needs).


  • internet enabled computer
  • projector
  • 3d printer
  • a means for students to share their file with the teacher, or move the file themselves from their computer to the 3d printers for fabrication.


  1. After students have created digital versions (or 3d print physical versions) of their chosen architecture, they should share them with their instructor.
  2. The instructor may choose to provide a little dramatic flare for this part of the lesson by creating a “gameshow” atmosphere much like the popular tv show “Nailed It!” When a student project is unveiled to the class, everyone should yell “Nailed it!” as positive reinforcement.
  3. Observations should be sourced from students around the class as to what the project creator did well. There should be at least 4-5 positive comments. The instructor should contribute at least one, or echo a student comment.
  4. Observations should be sourced from the project creators in the following way:
  5. The creator should either agree with some specific positive comments by other students, or note parts of their project they feel were best.
  6. After multiple positive aspects of the project are covered, the creator should note one way they could continue to improve it given more time. This is also an appropriate time for the instructor to do the same.




20 minutes


  • (Fab-Safety.1): I can safely conduct myself in a Fab Lab and observe operations under instructor guidance.
  • (Fab-Programming.1): I understand the basic structure of a simple program and can modify values, variables, or other parameters to alter its output, function, or behavior.
  • (Fab-Modeling.1): I can arrange and manipulate simple geometric elements, 2D shapes, and 3D solids using a variety of technologies.
  • (Fab-Fabrication.1): I can follow instructor guided steps that link a software to a machine to produce a simple physical artifact.
  • (Fab-Design.1): I can be responsible for various activities throughout a design process within a group under instructor guidance.

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