MPACT posits a relationship between 3D objects and 3D models 

MPACT developers made a design conjecture that if students work with real 3D prototypes and plans, model them on a 2D screen of a digital device, and then 3D print the final product, it would provide support for learning math concepts such as volume, spatial reasoning skills such as mental rotation, and computational thinking practices such as making and testing algorithms. So far, there is evidence that supports this conjecture, through an assessment of student learning and also based on teachers’ understanding of the approach. As one teacher said, “I think the excitement of kids, been able to design something, and you know, first on paper and then on a computer and then actually physically hold it—the kids bought into what we were trying to do immediately.”    

 Here is how the conjecture is played out in the curricular materials:  

MPACT provides supports for students to learn the standards-based mathematics that is embedded in students’ design and making work. For example, in a cube-puzzle project, students (1) make the puzzle from linking cubes, (2) digitally design it using Tinkercad™, Autodesk’s kid-friendly CAD, and then (3) 3D print an object their designs, so that they can compare all three. Important basic concepts of measuring volume are developed: a 3D measurement (cm3) can be based on measurements of length (cm); various methods can be used to find the volume of an object, from organized counting to formulas; two objects that appear very different can have the same volume; and the volume of two or more objects stuck together can be found by adding up the volume of each of them.  

MPACT is designed to open up spaces for cultural relevance and social-emotional learning.  

Open-licensed MPACT materials invite adaptation to include important aspects of local contexts and cultures. Several aspects of many projects are customizable, while the topics of the curricular modules remain constant, as they were carefully chosen and developed to teach specific math concepts. For example, 5th grade students design a toy on wheels for a younger child. The toy must have wheels of a specified volume, in order to teach volume concepts. However, beyond that, students may make any toy—from a stuffed bear on a skateboard to a three-wheeled vehicle made from a paper cup and straws. Young designers have many sources of knowledge to help them settle on a design for their toy: they observe the young child at play, and of course they know what types of toys are popular in their community. MPACT provides resources for building on cultural traditions: For example, East African children have a long history of making elaborate toys with wheels out of scrap wire. The MPACT website contains information on this tradition and can be expanded to address many more.  

In another example, 7th graders modify a board game so that visually impaired and sighted children can play the game together. Students have opportunity to learn about the mathematical concept of scale as they make game boards to fit the game pieces they design and make digitally. But in addition to learning math, teachers report that students develop their sense of empathy, an important area of growth for this age. Any board game can be used, so students can choose one familiar to them or that has historical roots for their community. Game rules can be modified to convert a competitive game to one that is cooperative, which may be more aligned with, for example, Native American values.  

MPACT opens opportunities for career preparation in technologies for now and the future.  

Rural areas and those that are home to large percentages of historically marginalized people are among the last to get makerspaces that address STEM with high-tech equipment, including 3D printing. Youth in these communities have strong ties and community resources, but rarely do these resources include engagement in high-tech career pathways. MPACT students learn a design-making process that aligns with the work of product designers, engineers, and other STEAM workers. 

MPACT’s materials are unique as making projects created for use in upper elementary and middle school that meet key math standards.  

Math concepts grow increasingly complex as students advance from elementary school to middle school—an important time for students’ mathematical growth. MPACT provides supports for students to learn the standards-based mathematics that is embedded in students’ design and making work.  

MPACT projects get students involved in designing and making useful and beautiful objects, such as a toy for a younger child. These activities serve as grounding for developing understanding of important mathematics topics that span 4th through 7th grade—in addition to spatial reasoning and computational thinking skills closely related to mathematics. For example, students have opportunity to learn about volume in a research-based learning progression as they model parts of the toy on a digital device such as a Chromebook, and then see their design take shape as a real object on the bed of a 3D printer. Then students combine this digital making process with more traditional craft materials, creating a more complete making experience.  

MPACT costs per classroom are low.  

The curricular materials and resources are available at no cost through an open license that allows for adaptation. Additional materials include a 3D printer (at around $350) and an assortment of low-cost craft materials such as modeling clay and pipe cleaners and common household materials such as cereal boxes. Four modules do not require 3D printers.  

MPACT addresses more than just math, targeting computational thinking and spatial reasoning as well.  

Computational thinking (CT) is increasingly important in K-12 education. Although originally taught mostly in high school, MPACT is amongst programs that address CT at elementary and middle school levels. Unlike many programs that focus on coding, MPACT CT is centered around a kid-friendly computer-aided design (CAD) tool. We work from this premise: The CAD is to coding as geometry is to algebra.  

3D spatial reasoning is often left out of grades 4–7 mathematics education. MPACT focuses on 3D spatial reasoning skills, which are learnable (as opposed to innate as they are sometimes portrayed) and are correlated with success in STEM college courses and careers.