In the Intermediate Program, harnessing the power of technology is integrated throughout the curriculum, and students gain hands-on experience through project-based learning. For fifth graders in faculty member Kiki Sweigart’s math and science class, grasping the fundamentals of coding opened the door to some cutting-edge technology: designing and printing 3D avatars.

“We started this 3D coding project as part of my professional development and something that piqued my interest from a fellow teacher who has inspired so many Horizons students in DC to love coding,” said Sweigart. “Once I saw the wonderful 3D printers in our IP building, I was even more motivated.”

Starting in the fall with Microworlds EX, students learned the building blocks of coding in order to progress to 3D designing and printing with Tinkercad. “The lessons helped the girls to see how much math goes into everything in a computer program or game, and we linked many math aspects, such as working with a coordinate grid, symmetry, and spinning shapes,” continued Sweigart. “The whole measuring process was for me the most enlightening and powerful way to show my students a very meaningful transition of using the measuring tools and conversions we have been working on all year. I wanted solid math and problem-solving skills and not just dragging and dropping shapes.”

For their first 3D printing project, students designed avatars, or figurative icons, similar to those they had encountered while playing online games. In addition to completing a physical inventory sheet detailing what her avatar looked like, each girl first drew a 2D rendering on graph paper and measured each piece of the design in millimeters before entering her calculations into Tinkercad.

“Coding strengthened my math skills because I got to learn more about measurement and ways to do graphs,” noted Hazel Smith ’28, who chose a triangle-shape body, cube face, and rectangular hair and mouth for an avatar of herself. “The most challenging part was drawing the avatar on grid paper and figuring out the measurements in millimeters. It was cool to see all of my hard work being finished. I was proud that my avatar did not get messed up while it was printing, which means my coding worked!”

For Caitlin Bennett ’28, who designed an alien avatar, getting the mathematical dimensions correct was key. “We drew our design on graph paper, measured it in square millimeters, and found the perimeter, area, length, width, and the total of each one as well as the total of everything,” she said. “I really liked working beside my friends and helping them as well as their helping me! Mrs. Sweigart explains it so well and is a really good teacher of coding. I would love to continue coding with Tinkercad and making 3D prints!”  

Inspired by the musical Hamilton, Tessa DeHaan ’28 coded an AH-inspired avatar to symbolize both Alexander Hamilton and Ashley Hall. “I thought this was smart and funny because I like having hidden meanings,” she said. “Ms. Sweigart makes it super fun, and the site we coded in was a blast. It was super easy, first introducing us into the simple steps of coding, such as placing blocks and finding different types, and then harder steps, as in grouping them or making harder designs. The most challenging part of my project was getting all the pieces together.”

Now experienced coders, Sweigart’s students have moved into coding with JavaScript through Kahn Academy and tackling robotics. “I’m proud of the fifth graders for showing so much patience, creativity, resilience, collaboration, and joy while working so steadily week by week,” she exclaimed. “I now call them my coding gurus.”