The Orlando Science Center hosted Spark STEM Fest, an entire weekend filled with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) opportunities for families. Among the featured workshops was An Introduction to TinkerCAD, presented by the director of DoD STARBASE Central Florida in Orlando, Lindsey Spalding, her teaching assistant, Abbie Brown, and Shawn Carlson, Ph.D. of Meta Humans. The subject matter experts (SME) introduced families to the tools and techniques of 3D modeling and scanning through the lens of creating historic exhibits for the Orlando Science Center (OSC).

DoD STARBASE Central Florida offers learning opportunities to everyone from early learners in 5th grade to subject matter experts in the MS&T workforce. The wonderful world of simulation is introduced to the 5th grade population through a 25-hour department of defense curriculum, which is enhanced for middle school students participating in summer camps. High school and college students have an opportunity to earn an M&S workforce accredited certification to help provide the industry with evidence of their practiced skills for internships.

Spalding began the family workshop at OSC by breaking down the scientific perspective of 3D digital modeling, emphasizing that vertices (points) are the initial step to start a model. “Vertices are connected by lines (edges) to create a face and when multiple faces are joined, you’ve created a 3D shape or basic geometry mesh,” explained Spalding. “Once you have a well-made model mesh, artists can add textures, lighting, and the special effects for realism. Models can be animated and eventually turned into simulations by adding physics through programming.”

To complete the workshop mission, families received background knowledge on the evolution of human tools by Carlson. He brought his collection of ancient tools for families to interact with very carefully and included the practice of learning how to use modern tools to help understand human tool evolution.

Families learned to use TinkerCAD to 3D model and their phones (today’s modern handheld tool) to 3D scan human tools that were over 900,000 years old in order to make an interactive exhibit for people to handle them without fear of destroying a piece of history. The families used a Lidar scanner on an iPAD Pro and photogrammetry on their smart phones to photograph every side of the tools to create a 3D scan. The Lidar scanner uses light detection and ranges to register numerous vertices to create a mesh model, while photogrammetry is the art and science of extracting 3D information from photographs, using overlapping photos of the object.

Once the workshop was complete, families had the opportunity to create their own physical 3D geometry shape with marshmallows and toothpicks at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division STEM Booth, which included DoD STARBASE Central Florida. Families were able to use the knowledge and techniques they learned in the workshop to build the tallest 3D geometric shapes possible using vertices (marshmallows) and edges (toothpicks). All ages got into friendly competition including great STEM discussion on the strongest shapes in nature and why geometry matters.

“Thousands of toothpicks and marshmallows later, the four-day SPARK STEM Fest was a great success with hundreds of families being introduced to the MS&T workforce through serious play,“ said Spalding.

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