Episode 34 – Portfolios & Physical Education

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast we explore the role that portfolios play in the Physical Education classroom. What other system makes it possible to accurately monitor and track learning samples and evidence of progress over time? The episode breaks down the various tools that teachers all over the planet are using to curate portfolios for their students.

Resources explored in detail in this episode include

Google Drive

Easy Portfolio 

Easy Portfolio Site Builder

Three Ring & Freshgrade

Press Play below to listen or visit the podcast page. Alternatively you can download a full episode transcript here


00:29 Jarrod Robinson: Hello and welcome everyone to another episode of the PE Geek Podcast, and as always, thanks a heaps for tuning in. On today’s episode we’re actually really fortunate to have our first ever guest on the podcast, and I have been alluding to having some guests appearing in previous episodes. But I thought it was an opportune time to introduce to you Mike Vasquez who is going to talk to us a little bit about the role that he has in the area of 3D printing and the collision that that has with sports. So welcome to the show, Mike.

01:02 Mike Vasquez: Thank you, hi everyone.

01:04 JR: Thanks for coming along, and I mean for a little bit of a background story for those people that are just tuning in. I, in March, did a blog post about how I had been playing around with 3D printers on site at my school. And I basically stumbled across the design for a 3D whistle and thought that would be a pretty cool addition to my classroom and printed it out, and it was my first ever experience with 3D printers. And it basically led me to Mike and the things that he’s doing. So do you mind sharing your background and how you’re involved in this sort of world?

01:44 MV: Absolutely. So thanks again for having me on the podcast.

01:47 JR: You’re welcome.

01:48 MV: So a little bit about me, I’m actually based in Chicago, I’m not in Australia, as the accent, you can hear. So I’m an engineer by background, but really passionate about sports and combining the two. So since an early age, I’ve really, my passion has been in baseball, but I enjoy kind of all sports. Did my undergrad at MIT where I was fortunate enough to see or find out that a team-mate of mine on the baseball team was involved in this research group called the Sports Innovation Lab. And for me it was like a kid in the candy store, it was the place where undergrads and graduate students and professors came together to explore and work on problems in sports, with athletes, with equipment and things like that, and that was really my first introduction to really think about, “Hey, there could actually be a career designing baseball bats or designing shoes.” I hadn’t thought about that in the past and then it kind of clicked for me, it’s like, “Someone’s gotta be designing the equipment that athletes are using on the field,” and I’m like, “How do I become one of those people?”

03:06 MV: So I really started to focus on doing some internships with sports companies, actually doing an internship globally in the UK outside of the US at this university in England, about an hour north of London called Loughborough, which is pretty well known for sports. And there I got my first introduction to the Sports Technology Institute, and kind of long story short, decided after MIT to go out there and pursue a PhD. And it was there really that I started to really focus on 3D printing and how it could be applied in sports. And what my project was on was how can you develop new materials for 3D printing?

03:55 MV: And the reason that’s important is that 3D printing has been around since the ’80s, so it’s not a new technology, it’s new in the sense that for a lot of people that may just have heard about it, is for low cost, or desktop, or home printer. So that’s a pretty new phenomenon that’s come about in the recent years. But the original technology is not too new, but it was really used for prototyping, and just creating something that you could put in a meeting, at an engineering meeting on a desk and you could talk about or just handle, but it wasn’t, the materials and the process wasn’t sophisticated enough to really create an end product that would withstand falling off that desk or being swung like a baseball bat, or something like that.

04:49 MV: So a lot of sports companies in particular with, in addition to kind of the typical companies that are pushing engineering research for aerospace and medical and things like that, are really interested in, “Hey, this is an awesome technology, can we make the materials or can we develop materials that are even better so that we can take advantage of the design opportunities that it allows?” And with that in mind, a company called Burton Snowboards, based in the US, I think they’re, if not the biggest, one of the biggest snowboarding companies in the world, and were in the early 2000s really exploring the technology, first for prototyping and then it got to the point where they wanted to do some pretty sophisticated functional parts out of 3D printed materials. So they partnered with the university to explore that. I was fortunate enough to be the person that, I’m one of the people that worked on that specifically and helped them develop a process and ultimately a new material to use on snowboard binding parts and snowboard parts.

06:14 MV: We ended up testing them on the snow and get them onto real athletes and things like that, so it was really exciting. And then from there I’ve been working, I’ve worked for about two years now in Chicago. I run my own consulting firm that helps companies of all sorts not just sports, better use 3D printing technology both in applications and in developing new materials and machines. So it’s called 3D Printing Reports, but I still do a lot of stuff in sports. And the reason that sports is interesting from kind of a research and development and even product space for me is that not many people know this, but it’s actually one of the places where you see a lot of development in new technology and they’re an early adopter of many of the new materials and new processes that you would see alongside kind of defence or aerospace.

07:22 MV: And the reason for that is that they don’t have the regulations that you would say an automotive company might have or a company that makes airplanes has. They’re just making sports equipment. Most of the time it’s not life and death, so they’re like the difference between half a second or a tenth of a second on a race or a run down a snowboarding course, makes a huge difference. And if they’re able to get that performance by using a different material that no one’s ever used before, they’re gonna do it and they also have the cash backing to explore that. So it’s really unique in the sense that they’re always pushing product out and kind of like fashion every season, but they’re also really looking at “What’s the next material? What’s the next process? What’s on the horizon?” So that’s a really… For me at least, really exciting where you actually get to see things that you’re working on in the lab or in research being applied in products in the next season. So it’s a little bit of history. Sorry, if I went on for too long.

08:30 JR: That’s good. I mean it really…

08:32 MV: I’ll stop right there.

08:33 JR: It really paints a picture about sport is that thing that really does drive a lot of innovation. And believe it or not that innovation finds its way into our phys ed classrooms as well. And you talk about equipment design and so forth, well, those things eventually end up in the hands of students in phys ed classes. You’ve talked about whether or not a piece of equipment ends up making something easier to use, well, then that obviously translates into a student use as well, and that might actually be the thing that makes it possible for them to learn a skill faster than they had previously learned it. Would that be a fair assumption to make with, as these progressions sort of happen, things become easier to use and skill could progress as well?

09:19 MV: Absolutely. I think the biggest advantage that 3D printing has over traditional technology is this ability to really make and design highly complex and highly customised objects in a way that is pretty cost effective. Comparatively, so say we’re making some other plastic piece of equipment, typically they’re gonna be made through injection, what’s called injection moulding. That’s a process where you have to make this steel or metal mould and you blow hot plastic into it and then it sets, and then that happens very quickly and you can you can make hundreds of thousands of parts, but they’re all gonna be the same parts and that actual equipment to make the part is pretty expensive. With 3D printing all you need is a computer and a design, and then you can press print and you have it at your hands after it finishes printing. So that’s really exciting for PE teachers and students to really make the opportunity to make things customised for their own classes to make learning more efficient.

10:37 JR: Yeah, that’s the thing that really grabs me about this, the whole personalization angle. In the blog post that I mentioned earlier on that went out in March, I mentioned the whole ability to customise things to suit the student that is there in that particular point in time and that’s really powerful. I’ve gotten countless examples of students using equipment in our school that doesn’t suit them, and it might only be applicable to half the group in terms of their size and so many other factors, and that for me is the thing that really excites me. The other thing that really, that I find fascinating is, and this may be further down the track, but the whole ability to be able to potentially print things on site that are more complex than what we can do right now. What I’m thinking in this area is the ability to print things that have multiple different components that make them up, not just one material. Is that something that’s likely to happen down the future?

11:45 MV: I think it will definitely happen down the future. I think at the moment it’s not quite there yet. Actually printing in multiple materials is still fairly challenging if you want anything that is pretty robust that would probably withstand the tumble of the kids and using it, but I think it will happen as materials and machines mature. It’s one of those technologies that it kinda stagnated for those 15, 20 years just doing prototyping, but when all these new machines came out, there’s a big drive for innovation and push that people see the potential and wanna take advantage. It’s just gonna take a little bit of time for the research to catch up, and getting that into mass production, and things like that.

12:43 MV: But going, even going back to the customised aspect of it. I’ve worked on a few projects where kind of as you’re talking about, thinking about PE classes with kids of all different sizes, and everyone’s growing at different rates, and things like that. So even equipment that’s designed for kids may not optimally fit them. Some kids could be bigger, some kids could be smaller, made me think of this project I worked on, or was familiar with that Sports Technology Institute was working with paralytic athletes. And this may be kind of the extreme of where you need something highly customised just due to the way someone’s built, and what their skeletal structure is or from an injury, but this is already going on with those athletes where we made customised wheelchair, or wheelchair basketball frames for them. And even for some tennis athletes that had some issues with grips, they couldn’t get their full hand around the tennis racket because of an injury they had sustained. They were just duct taping their hand to the racket, so they could hold on to it, so that wasn’t very efficient, and obviously painful [laughter] at the end.

14:10 JR: Yeah, definitely.

14:10 MV: But with 3D printing, you’re able to create products through design by scanning the hand, scanning the racket, and you have this digital shape where you can mould a grip, or make a grip that you can print and have it ready to go for that athlete makes it so much easier for them to participate, not only enjoy the sport, but perform at a level that they’re happy with.

14:38 JR: Yeah. That in itself is another reason why it has massive implications for phys ed in the future with Adapted Physical Education being something that is a whole other area in PE, and working with people who have disabilities, and supporting them. It’s a challenge, and 3D printing sounds like it has [chuckle] an ability to address that in many ways. That’s really exciting from PE teachers’ perspectives. The other thing that I wanted to touch on is, cost saving, is it likely that eventually as the demand increases, and innovation pushes things forward that things could become more affordable to print and produce because of the 3D printers?

15:26 MV: Yeah, that’s definitely a track that it’s progressing towards the schools, not quite there yet, but in certain cases, I could imagine specific to PE would be: Times when you have to make replacement parts rather than, things break all the time, whether you’re in a manufacturing floor or in the classroom, and it’s time consuming, and costly to reorder stuff, and you end up having to repair it either to not optimal way. But in this case, the nice thing about 3D printing is as long as you have a 3D design, you can print it.

16:08 MV: So in theory, if they’re a piece of equipment, or at least one piece of equipment breaks, you just need one, you don’t need a whole classroom set of 30 or 40. That’s a perfect application of 3D printing where you’re just looking to fill one or two at a time. It’s a really nice option to have, and as long as materials match up and things like that, but I think that’s really gonna… That’s really exciting, and it’s one of those things where at least in the US, schools tend to strapped for funds, and in some cases, so this is, can be a much more cost efficient way of better than buying a full replacement that you can kind of replace things one at a time in a little bit cheaper way.

16:56 JR: Yeah. That definitely appeals to me, and I… As I mentioned, my first 3D printing experience was just the other day. We’ve only just got a 3D printer at our school, one of the desktop variety, and the total cost for the whistle that I ended up actually using in class the very next period was 33 cents. And I couldn’t buy a whistle for that amount, and does definitely put a tick in the box towards that cost saving factor. And the fact that I could actually customise my whistle with my own logo on it, which is what I eventually did, was really exciting. And I’ve actually seen a whole host of PE teachers since then printing these whistles, which is really tokenistic, but this definitely points towards that future stuff.

17:47 JR: What I also wanted to talk about was this whole levelling of… Bringing down the capacity that students need or everyone needs to be able to design some of these sort of things that can be printed. Many years ago, I’m assuming, there were sort of small sophisticated tools that you needed software-wise and some training. But the other day, I had my students download Tinkercad, which is an in-browser sort of 3D modelling tool, and they were able to instantly design and print very simple things. But that’s obviously progressing as well?

18:27 MV: Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of free and simplified 3D design or CAD design software platforms out on the market, and some of them are open source and there’s lots of communities around that are interested in the technology that have developed tutorials and things like that.

18:52 JR: See, that’s exiting for education, too, outside of just PE. I know that our school has a limited budget for software, and the ability to get access to open source or stuff that runs in a browser and be able to experiment and use this stuff is sort of really appealing. And that remix culture that exists in 3D printing, is that just gonna continue?

19:14 MV: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s gonna be… There already is kind of the maker and hacker culture that’s existing. And people are really exciting. And outside of even 3D printing, there’s a lot of work going on in creating some… There’s spaces even in Chicago that are called Makerspaces where it’s kind of a band of people that are really interested in making physical products. So, they’ve kind of come together to get a warehouse, and they have different machines, 3D printers, 3D scanners, sewing machines, everything you can imagine, and kind of donated in a very communal way that people wanna work on their projects or their hobbies, and can build stuff. So, I think that mentality is permeating through the US. And I’ve done some work in the UK on that same thing, and I imagine it’s still going on in Australia as well and around the globe like it’s this idea that these manufacturing tools are becoming way more accessible to the masses, they’re not just stuck behind the doors of Ford or GE or something like that, so they’re available.

20:34 MV: And people just take, whether you’re 10 years old or 30 years old or 6 years old, I tend to see in people that are kind of building these things, there’s a lot of pride that goes into “Hey, I made this. This is something that I designed, I printed, or I built or I carved.” There’s a lot of pride there and it gives people a different understanding and appreciation and even interest in how something, even like a piece of sports equipment, is made. I’ve literally had to hand make baseball bats when I worked for a baseball equipment manufacturer. And it gave me a completely new understanding of how they’re actually made. So, I could see that being an interesting way to teach sports or teach PE where you’re not only giving people the rules and kind of letting them experiment with the games and their athletic ability, but saying “Hey, this is how the first baseball bat or cricket bat was developed.” And then they can actually go out and do it to see how easy or difficult that may be. So, I think it just gives people a new perspective, a little bit more context, of where they’re coming from, with at least the equipment side of things.

22:01 JR: And there’s a really big… What you’ve just sort of mentioned that hits on to my… Probably one of the most exciting points for me is that whole ability for students to inquire, be really inquisitive into the process of design and how that really impacts the performance. And if you’re teaching anything, a teacher perspective, like biomechanics and even sort of functional anatomy-type concepts and they can really get a hands on experience of designing something and seeing how it impacts on the potential performance. And in a school context, that really brings together other subject areas. So, it could be the collaborative projects for people in design, and tech classes working together to build things for PE. And that’s really exciting. And I know that there’s some people that are doing some really exciting stuff in schools at the moment. And I expect that’s probably likely to continue. Is school a growing area for 3D design and 3D printing, do you think?

23:00 MV: Yeah. I’ve talked to, or I’ve seen, a lot of printers go up in schools, and at least the tools for designing being taught. It’s one of those things where it brings a level of excitement, gets people excited if you can get a 3D printer into the school or the classroom. And like you were saying, it really hits a wide variety of topics from science and engineering to design and art to PE. So, it has the ability to bring those kind of cross-collaboration or cross-discipline education together. And that’s happening in companies, too, it’s just not in schools where a lot of companies don’t function like that, it’s very siloed off where you have the design team, you have the business team, you have the engineering team, you have the manufacturing team, all kind of working in silos, but…

24:00 MV: Because 3D printing is unique in the sense that it can do a lot of manufacturing fairly quickly, in terms of condensing the timeline for how a part is built, its forcing these groups that otherwise may not have worked together as closely, really together. So I think in schools it’s very, very similar and it’ll be exciting to see how that grows and developing… Like, I was never exposed to 3D printing when I was in grade school at all, but it’ll be exciting to see some of the kids growing up now who will have this exposure and probably after a few practices can be a better designer than me on some of these software tools, like what happens to them as they start to go into college and go into the professional world where it’s expected that you have a 3D printing machine to use. So it just opens the door… Kicks the door open to see what’s gonna happen in the future.

25:13 JR: Yeah. That’s without a doubt. Well thank you, really, for your time today. Just to finish off, is there anything that you’re excited about in terms of things that maybe you’re working on or even outside of the 3D printing space in that sort of sport and technology area that may have some implications for people in schools or just in sport in general?

25:35 MV: Yeah, I think from my perspective there’s a lot going on. I think in addition to 3D printing, sports wearables is a really exciting space. I’m doing some work there to bring the idea of sensors to equipment so that people can see how fast they’re swinging or how fast they’re throwing a ball, things like that. So that’s at the moment really being used for top level athletes, but I think there’s just as much opportunity at the lower ages as well, because its a different mentality. It may not necessarily be for measuring performance, which is interesting, but its also one of those things where its a platform to create community and create competition if you’re able to share your statistics with someone else in your city or in your state or in your country or even competitors. So I would keep an eye out 1n the sports wearables space.

26:41 JR: Yeah definitely. You can see that there’s so many devices that are starting to appear in that general setting, and I’m really excited to see where that wearable stuff heads up ’cause it just seems like its the tip of the iceberg in what’s possible. Really excited about that.

27:00 MV: Definitely.

27:03 JR: Thanks heaps for deciding to come onto the podcast today and sharing everything you know about 3D printing and its implications in the physical education space. Where can people find out more about you if they want to do so?

27:17 MV: Sure. My website is called 3Dprintingreports.com and it has a little bit about what I do and some videos about the sports specific work that I’ve done as well. And you can also follow me on Twitter. I have two Twitter accounts, one also, one is for the 3D printing specific stuff @3Dreports, and then I also do a podcast on sports technology. Been doing that for a few years so this is almost a cross pollination of podcasts here. So that’s called www.sportstechnologypodcast.com, Twitter on that is @sportstechpod for that.

28:10 JR: The links and everything to the show will be at thepegeek.com and you can be able to go there and find all those links that have been mentioned in today’s episode. Just wanted to thank you again for taking the time really early morning for you as well which is really appreciated, but I definitely know that everyone listening has got a lot out of it, so thanks a lot.

28:30 MV: Absolutely. Thank you for having me on.

28:31 JR: Bye, mate.

28:32 MV: Thanks.

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