Unblocking a Smart Extruder

The MakerBot Smart Extruder is “smart” in many areas, but they still can not find a clog and then subsequently unclog it by themselves. We are probably still a few generations of printer away before these extruder’s can be completely automated when it comes to self-diagnosis and repair. So how do you fix a blockage?

Learning Projects

I still find conferences to be a valuable source of inspiration.

The key for those suffering from conference fatigue is to look at events not only outside of your subject discipline, but outside of education. But that’s not to say that conferences should be your main source of learning. Far from it. We know that learning is an active process that happens when you do something that matters. When you do something that is personally meaningful.

To combat a passive learning culture, at the beginning of last year we implemented the concept of a Learning Project at our College. The concept of the Learning Project is to move Professional Learning in a direction that is relevant to teaching staff’s individual interests, contexts and passions. Similar in concept to Google’s 20% time, each Tuesday afternoon, instead of traditional meetings, priority has been given for Professional Learning and Learning Projects. Each week during this time, a series of short workshops on a range of topics are offered by our staff that other staff can attend. These sessions are “opt-in” and are not compulsory, however if you don’t attend one of those sessions it is expected that you are engaged in either an individual or collaborative learning project.

Learning Projects in our context are defined as an embedded form of action research where staff strive to learn something new, deepen their knowledge base, stay current with new developments in learning or experiment with an innovation that aims to improve student outcomes. All Learning Projects are underpinned by a big idea or driving question that is relevant to the individual. Some examples from last year include:

  • How does a Reggio Emilia approach influence a teacher’s perception of “best practice?”
  • How do I make the library a more creative learning space?
  • What are the effects on learning of regular mindfulness practice?
  • What is 21st century assessment and how do we encourage a more diverse assessment portfolio?
  • Working mathematically – moving beyond calculations?
  • Is storytelling a new literacy?
  • What methods are there for enhancing formative feedback?

The big idea or driving question is explored over the course of the year. Documentation collected as part of a staff members Learning Project varies in form from a research paper, a short video, a unit of work, data analysis that yields an interesting or unexpected result or it could be as simple as the sharing of a powerful “light bulb” moment. Staff then present their progress on their learning project during our staff learning day at the beginning of term four each year. Progress is the key point here. There are no hard deliverables as we understand that trust and the process are as important as the end result.

Any change initiative is always met with pockets of resistance, as anything new challenges the status quo and induces an anxiousness or fear response from the “amygdala hijack“. What this model of professional learning has achieved in a relatively short period of time is shift the dominant dialogue from low-level administrative matters to learning.

Staff have been invited to be active participants in their own learning. A large majority have risen to the challenge.

Dual Operating Systems

In a world of accelerating change, traditional hierarchies are often too slow to change direction. Kotter in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, advocates a new system—a second, more agile, network-like structure that operates in concert with the hierarchy to create what he calls a “dual operating system”—one that allows organizations to capitalize on rapid-fire strategic challenges and new directions. The hierarchy and the network coexist to drive efficiency and innovation.

This second operating system or network-like structure mimics successful enterprises in their entrepreneurial phase. Networks are more agile because bottlenecks don’t exist and you have many people driving important change and from everywhere. Its a distributed leadership model. The two systems work as one with a constant flow of information between them.


Whilst traditional hierarchies are built to minimize risk, these “accelerator networks” are free to take risks and innovate. The hierarchy doesn’t manage the network, rather they work in synergy. Essentially you create structures that can short circuit the way things have always been done. An essential ingredient of change. Kotter, a leadership and change management expert, advocates eight accelerators to accelerate change within an organization.


This year we have emulated some of Kotter’s work and created some “accelerator networks” around the three key areas of Innovation, Pedagogy & Assessment. By establishing urgency, opening membership on these networks to all and establishing some big opportunities around key themes, we have seen innovation come from everywhere and change accelerate. Whilst there are quite a few reasons for this, these “accelerator networks” in particular have caused a shift to immediate action by creating a distributed leadership platform for us to discuss and implement organizational change in synergy with the traditional hierarchy.

Steve Collis from NBCS was recently talking about this exact idea at DigiTech By The BayJohn Burns is doing the same with his HackSIS event where he is inviting people to create, design, break, reverse engineer & reimagine facets of their school community by posing big questions that create opportunities.

There are many change management frameworks around but I think Kotter’s is a good one.

Optimizing Print Quality on MakerBot 5th Gen


We have a suite of Makerbot 5th Gens at our College and out of the box they worked great.

However, being in high-traffic, high-use environments with students from Year 4 to Year 12 utilizing these 3D printers we started to have maintenance issues spring up on almost a daily basis. Through trial and error, reading forums and talking with MakerBot tech support and the guys at ThingLab, we know have our printers fully optimized and printing better then ever.

Some tips that we have learned over the last 12 months that I thought may be helpful to others include:

  • Be vigilant about dust – you need to keep your 3D Printer as dust free as possible which may mean investing in a dust cover for when it is not in use.
  • Firmware should be updated regularly. Latest version is v1.6.3. This can be updated from Devices -> Update Firmware.
  • Ensure you are using the latest version of MakerBot Desktop.
  • Print and make a dust filter or universal filament filter available from Thingverse – trust me this makes a huge difference! This video explains the fitting and you can also try a little WD40 in the filter.
  • Check the PTFE (white tube) is in a nice arc, just touching the rear edge of the filament drawer and that the end sits between the two lines marked on the filament drawer. Leave your filament drawer in the upright position whilst printing.
  • Instead of blue painters tape on the build plate consider using Buildtak. It is a much better alternative.
  • Manually adjusting the Z offset allows you to set a better distance between nozzle and plate. This will greatly improve your print experience, the quality of your prints and prolong nozzle / smart extruder life. To best calibrate your Makerbot Replicator, perform this procedure:
    • Go to Devices -> Device Preferences -> Z Offset
    • Set manual offset to -0.4mm
    • Level the build plate, ensuring that you tighten the two bed levelling screws before calibrating. Once the procedure is complete, perform levelling again, skipping the screw tightening at the start. This will ensure the plate is very level.
    • Go back and now offset the plate to +0.4mm, apply changes and run a test print with ‘Chain links’. If the raft is ‘squiggly’, incrementally adjust the smart extruder up till it no longer is running test prints to check the first layer. As soon as it adheres well (no squiggles), this is your Z height.

Once the plate is level, take the plate out to remove parts and you won’t tamper with the level. The printer will then check the level between prints to ensure that it’s still level.

In all the excitement that 3D printing generates at your school, eager students may bump the printer on occasions so re-levelling fairly often is recommended. As students are learning CAD, it is also important to check their designs for size, shape and form and talk to them about what would print well, what wouldn’t and why. All part of the fun!