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Hacker Calculus: Teaching Math with 3D Prints

Colloquium | April 2 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 2515 Tolman Hall

Joan Horvath, Nonscriptum LLC; Rich Cameron, Nonscriptum LLC

Graduate School of Education

We are developing 3D printed models to teach key calculus concepts hands-on, with minimal algebra. Our first inspiration was Isaac Newton’s illustrations in his (geometry-only) Principia Mathematica. What if Newton had been able to access a 3D printer? Over time math and physics teaching became heavily weighted toward algebra, and less toward geometrical problem-solving. Many practicing mathematicians and physicists, though, will get their intuition geometrically first and do the algebra later. We want to let people get to that point directly without passing through (much) algebra, to allow for more ways for all to succeed at math.

There are many databases of 3D printable objects but these are not curated and the quality can be uneven. The science or math in free database models can be just plain wrong. At the other extreme, some available 3D printable math model sets are esoteric “math zoos” that look awesome but give no insight into how the model fits into a bigger picture. The lack of curated, rationally-organized 3D printable math and science models, and the difficulty of creating them, has held back use of 3D printing as an educational tool, even where it might be very effectively applied.

We will talk about this work-in-progress as well as our lessons learned developing two books of 3D printable math and science projects. We are aiming our development right now for the adult teaching themselves calculus concepts on their own. We will be interested in audience thoughts about the obstacles in trying to tie our models in with traditional calculus teaching, or in using them to teach calculus concepts to younger student than is currently seen possible.

Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron are the co-founders of Nonscriptum LLC ( Their Pasadena-based consulting and training firm was founded in early 2015 and focuses on teaching educators and scientists how to use 3D printing, open-source electronics, and similar “maker” technologies. They have also written six books on 3D printing, fashion tech and more for the Apress imprint of Springer-Nature. Before founding their own company, they both worked at one of the first Kickstarter-funded open-source 3D printer companies. Joan also has a position as a Core Adjunct faculty member for National University and has taught at a variety of Southern California institutions. Before that, she spent 16 years at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has degrees from MIT and UCLA. Rich (known online as “Whosawhatsis”) is an experienced open source developer who has been a key member of the RepRap 3D-printer development community for many years.