I ran two 3D design and printing five-day workshops for elementary and middle school students this summer. One design tool we explored was the Blokify app on the iPad. While the app is based around themes, like castles, space ships, and more, think outside the box and use Blokify to build 3D puzzles that you can print.
Start with a collection of LEGO bricks. I sorted through a big bin and pulled out 2x2, 2x3, and 2x4 bricks. My first prototype, shown above, was built with the studs all facing to the side, instead of up, but subsequent student builds used a studs up build.
If you are working as a group, this is a great collaborative exercise because all of the pieces of the puzzle must fit together. Aim to create a puzzle that when assembled creates a big cube or rectangular-shaped, smooth-faced solid.
Next, use blue tape to label each piece with a number. It is also important to label each piece on the same side of each piece, so you can remember how to solve the puzzle.
Divide the pieces of the puzzle among your teammates and open the Blokify app. When you re-create your LEGO prototype pieces in Blokify, each peg in the LEGO piece stands for one block in Blokify. So, a 2x2 LEGO piece translates into a single-layer 2x2 square in Blokify.
Additionally, turn you LEGO prototype pieces so your Blokify models have minimal overhangs. If your pieces have overhangs you will need to print them with a raft and support, which uses additional plastic and takes extra time.
Once your Blokify model is complete, have your teammates check it over next to the LEGO prototype piece. Make sure one peg on the LEGO corresponds to one block in Blokify. Once you are confident you models are ready to print, load them into your slicing software. I scaled these puzzle pieces down 50% to reduce print time. They were still very useably sized pieces at this scale. Print your puzzle.
Keep your LEGO prototype handy: you will need it to troubleshoot any puzzle pieces that end up not fitting. You might even need the labeled LEGO prototype to help you solve your puzzle the first few times you play with it!
Some students colored the white filament with Sharpie pens after printing. The pieces looked good in the distinct colors and a sharp individual might even use the colors to help remember how to solve these delightfully tricky puzzles.