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2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

Reforming Abstract Geometrical Ideas through 3D

Printing: a Proposal for Experiential e-Making
Technology in Creative Education
Sylvia Stavridi
Bibliotheca Alexandrina,

Abstract - Abstract art is a powerful medium of visual communication. The physical 3D representation of a
expression but simultaneously a very poor means of geometric abstract shape allows for visual communication of
visual communication. In an effort to physically abstract ideas, it conveys information or stands for
experiment with symbolic yet innovative thoughts or symbolizing thoughts or ideas, and provides many ways for
ideas in geometric, abstraction art, the researcher visualizing an idea [2]; [3]. Architecture uses the extensive
investigates the potential, value, and uses of building circle of visibility and intimate circle of touch-ability [4]. In
simple three-dimensional (3D) objective interpretations a combined digital and physical learning environment, the
of reality available to touch. abstract becomes more concrete and is easier to perceive and
This paper describes the primary objectives of a one apprehend.
semester project-based learning proposal involving The data under study is adopted from Piet Mondrian’s
Alexandrian middle-school students or young learners. (1872–1944) geometrical abstract concepts. Mondrian is the
The project integrates 3D modeling/printing into creative main creator of geometric abstract language. He
activities so middle-school students or young learners can expressively simplified the characteristics of abstract
learn the functional aspects of abstract geometric forms geometric art into their fundamental basic vertical and
and compositions and how to design and print 3D horizontal elements and reduced his shapes to lines and
models. rectangles.
Drawing on the literature that explores the true Abstract geometric art offers new directions in
potential of the technology that transfers 3D digital encouraging creative development of the logically-
modeling to tactile solid objects by building them up in mathematically-oriented middle-school students or young
layers, the paper discusses the need for future research learners. Through geometric abstract language, they read
to develop artistic understanding of 3D printing and how meaning, or rather a form of perception based on context or
it affects the physical reality of the explored forms and an image relationship to other elements, its relative size,
materials. placement, or importance. Middle-school students or young
Given the feasibility of 3D printing technologies and learners at the age of 11 enjoy forming concepts, looking for
how these developments continue to expand, the relationships, and extending their knowledge beyond
researcher notes that the use of 3D printing geometric concept models in more effective ways as they begin to
art models can be a powerful supplement for creating think abstractly and are capable of deductive and logical
abstract geometrical design with touch input. 3D printers reasoning [5].
are adding new flexible materials that engage the 3D modeling and printing tools change the way today's
imagination of middle-school students or young learners learners learn, create and play. In their everyday practices,
and allows them to create or interact with visual they meet three-dimensional tools: some may express
representations of concepts and turn them into a tangible familiarity in 3D learning while others may seek more action
reality where ‘seeing’ and ‘making’ intersect, and where to actively engage. Obviously, it is now possible to simulate
possibility becomes reality. physically realistic environments where this 3D technique is
taking shape by capturing imagination with technology.
Index Terms - 3D Printing, Abstract Geometrics, Creative Given the feasibility of the 3D printing potential in school
Education, Middle-School Students or Young Learners. settings, middle-school students or young learners will be
motivated to freely experiment, translate their abstract ideas
INTRODUCTION into visual images, and re-create them into tangible forms.
Abstract art is a powerful medium of expression but at the Art educators can incorporate 3D printing into their
same time a very poor motor of visual communication. This creative design processes to reconnect the physical and
means, going from concrete to abstract can be more digital worlds. In this system, 3D printing technologies may
recognizable but not necessarily as simplified nor as transform traditional classroom activities into more vital
comprehensible. [1] argues that teaching abstract concepts in classroom engagement for communicating, generating the
geometry increases cognitive consignment but reduces awareness of children in supporting the spatial conceptual

978-1-5090-5379-7/17/$31.00 (c) 2017 IEEE 10

2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

visualization processes and in learning expressive abstract architecture. For that reason, geometric interaction in space
geometry. gives an accessible transfer for middle-school students or
Such an innovative approach draws attention to this paper’s young learners to allow them become more focused, and to
research question: In what ways, can educational technology improve and develop their skills of analyzing shape
be developed in order to understand abstract spatial construction of building façades into square composition.
construction, scale, and proportions in both virtual and real [10] observed that experiencing in art intelligently increases
environments. Through this project-based learning approach, the visual perception of the student to think effectively in
middle-school students or young learners will be engaged in terms of symbols and mathematical.
digital modeling and 3D printing activities to physically Considering the effectiveness of maximizing the
transfer the 2D well-known Mondrian’s compositions that comprehensibility within representation to emerge thinking,
can be described geometrically in terms of linear geometric forms as abstract ideas play an important part in
compositions to 3D. architectural design; the circle and the square are pure,
This paper examines the potential of learning in the abstract, shapes that have a symbolic power to be used
making whereas new 3D related education resources employ independently or related to various geometries of being. [11]
tactile form-shaping not only as a process to simplifying the have shown a link between practices in architectural design
visual complexity of the design but as a necessity to and the ability to improve geometric reasoning and mentally
maximizing the tactility analytics approach of these 3D re-envision complex architectural structure of compositions.
explorations and how the reasoning thinking of the student is According to the findings of the previous study [12],
fostered by means of them. middle-school students or young learners are considered an
appropriate age group for the introduction of architectural
BACKGROUND: ABSTRACT GEOMETRIC FORMS AND design education that focusses on model building, as part of
CONCEPTUAL VISUALIZATION the training in expression and creativity. With particular
Although Mondrian’s geometrical abstract art is associated reference to the perception of abstraction in forms and space,
only with two-dimensional (2D) representation, he the artwork activity relates to buildings and constructions.
experimented with architectural aspects in some of his work. Middle-school students or young learners will learn to
Mondrian-inspired geometrical abstract art is based on a incorporate visualization with analytical reasoning to
pure study of form, line, and color [6]. Mondrian’s pictorial enhance the visualizing of symbolic/abstract ideas and
language of generic abstraction captures the underlying convert them into representations in order to understand
structure of geometry concepts into geometric shapes, forms them.
and transformations, and the separation of space, color, and Recent research done at the National Institutes of Health
form is considered the point of departure for the analysis of indicates that exercising a visual skill can make the brain's
geometric decompositions in building forms [7]. He motor map expand. Middle-school students or young
eliminated all representational components, reducing learners who are visual thinkers will often be good at
painting to its elements: straight lines, plane surfaces, drawing, designing, construction and building things with
geometric shapes, and primary bold colors (red, yellow, and building blocks such as Lego's. According to this view,
blue) combined with the three neutrals, non-colors (black, teaching abstract geometry and its simplified, abstract form
gray, and white). makes architectural components easier to study, to inspect,
From an art education perspective, the interpretation of and to grasp in order to give meaning to ideas and feelings
the compositions of Mondrian to architecture allows for so their designing mind can adopt towards the conditions
much more informal teaching approaches and contributes to within which architecture is done [4]. Consequently, this
understanding the roots of ideas and their changes. When will help middle-school students or young learners
examined more closely, abstraction in its various forms understand abstract thinking in its different forms of realism
reflects the purity and simplicity of a generic geometric and representation.
transformation that unifies a wide range of natural and In accordance with interactive learning technology,
abstract shapes. Reasoning via generic abstraction is crucial abstract reasoning in architecture can provide activities that
in constructing a generic mental model [8]. For instance, the are exploratory and highly structured in order to enhance the
aesthetic experience is concerned with increasing conception connection between ‘form’ and ‘meaning’ to solve problems
awareness of line, form, design, and their dynamics; the within the context of a given medium.
relationship horizontal/vertical and the spatial interplay Characteristics of Exploratory Strategy:
between the pictorial parts of an abstract composition.
[9] found that the value of combining the meaning- • Utilizing discovery
making practices of architecture via their relation to • Dynamic and constantly changeable knowledge
geometric forms and iconic/geometrical representations • High involvement
assist as inferences to reach for ideas and capture the • Active-interactive
meanings of concepts. As acknowledged by [4] the
processes of discovery, exploration, memorizing, The simple strategy of visualizing representations of
responding, and creation are commonly involved in concepts in abstract design whereas, geometric ideas give

2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

form to the design as a common need of simplifying designed to support student-directed exploration,
meaning in visual display [1], will help middle-school metacognitive reflection and problem solving [17].
students or young learners develop symbolic thought and
achieve an understanding of structural thinking: translate 3D PRINTING: A REDISCOVERY OF THE CONCEPTUAL
knowledge into innovative compositional aspects within 2D CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN THE VIRTUAL AND THE REAL
composition and form within 3D structure. Advances in technologies have greatly enriched the teaching
IMMERSIVE 3D VISUAL PERCEPTION VS TACTILE of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)
INTERACTION education in middle school. The rapidly developing field of
3D printing technology is viewed as an inspiring tool to
Optical images may be recognizably 3D, or abstracted, make a difference, take action, drive change, and evoke
flattened or distorted. Offering both visual and dimensional thoughts and feelings. Living in an increasingly digital
accuracy learning, the 3D models are becoming invaluable society, incorporating such digital creative approaches has
tools for informing lots of contents, clarifying the structure changed limitations to the types of learning activities that are
of complex relationships, and transmitting ideas. Though the possible. Currently, there are multiple approaches to
transmission of information by means of visual aids is being investigate the creative educational potential of 3D printers
widely used for teaching resources, 3D models are needed and desktop manufacturing systems to revolutionize the
for the explanation of concepts. The comprehension of instructional setting of designing and making. [18] has
complex forms through 2D drawings, even when simply observed that the representation of 3D printed conceptual
converting 2D digital images into 3D materials is relatively models or physically forming ideas into scale is fundamental
limited due to size limitations of what the fingers can sense. to the architecture design process. The direct experience
Therefore, creating the 3D form, instead of just a 2D shape with 3D printing makes students more responsive in their 3D
as a standard painting does, makes an extremely wide array thinking as forms are taken beyond concepts into a reality
of new kinds of visualization possible. that can be observed and inspected.
[14] defines the tactile visualization to be the In the context of a design project, using e-Making in
representations of ideas generated in a person’s mind based architectural design learning facilitates the design practice,
on a sense of touch. According to [15], the sense of touch is in particular, the learning experiences to better understand
implicit to provide a reliable perception of the geometric what relevant sources to discern meanings and be able to
characteristics of an object. Furthermore, [16] observes that determine central ideas to venture forth beyond limited
physically examining the construction of a ‘real object’ media. 3D printing sets up a new balance between theory
improves the process of memorizing the pre-objective and experience in which digital generations of middle-school
building blocks in a virtual object on-screen. In this sense, students or young learners exercise critical thinking,
learning by making offers the best kind of unconstrained problem solving and design skills [19].
thinking. According to Innovation, Design Engineering
Students with visual‑perception problems may have Organization (IDEO) and [20] liberating students from
some difficulty in visualizing concepts or mentally making inexpressive academics and developing inner experiences
transformation of abstract 3D ideas in geometry. They can creates a balance between theory and practice to perform
gain understanding and insight by holding and manually complex tasks in a design thinking activity. Through
inspecting a 3D object made real. And so, the 3D models problem-based learning and hands-on, middle-school
with basic materials created in 3D printers will help middle- students or young learners will work together and ultimately
school students or young learners experimentally learn to engage in a physical activity directly associated with
physically manipulate and observe concepts and fully concepts and processes of creating 3D-printable shapes
understand the concept of architectural representation in associated with 3D printing curriculum for STEAM
buildings. The power of geometry building in physical 3D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
abstract shapes/forms is bringing materials together into education in middle school.
building under the influence of insight and inspiration. The The affordance of the 3D printing technology to the
shift from 3D designing or composing abstract geometric consumer market is giving educators new ways to positively
forms in screen-based medium to additive 3D printed objects incorporate it into their art program to balance between
builds the perspectival reality of the physical world where theory, experience, and physical experiment. The 3D
knowledge is validated through ‘in-touch’ practice. printing revolution is taking interaction with visualization
Immersive 3D visualized learning spaces integrate visual- further, blurs the divide between the physical and the digital,
tactual perception into informal education to construct new and makes it easy to remix and customize physical objects.
knowledge in a collective setting. 3D printing slides more easily with interactive elements into
A growing trend in innovative design conceptualization an artistic interpretation where ‘seeing’ and ‘making’
suggests a future practice in art which evolves in intercross. This significant rediscovery and dynamic
‘simplifying’ and expanding the ‘exploration’ space and of exploration create active interplay between the realms of
bringing focus to the design thinking process. For that high tech and high sensation. It links the design thinking in
reason, forward-thinking ‘edu-making’ activities are

2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

computer-mediated environments and the physical world Thereby, learning in such a media-based knowledge
again. environment helps middle-school students or young learners
Initial materials are generated to involve overviews of get more interested in the subject at hand to mentally re-
research into how the attribution of geometric abstraction envisioning the boundaries of the digital design-space in
and 3D printing specialization can considerably enhance relation to the physical solution-space which can then overt
problem solving and reasoning thinking skills which are action. Some of the ideas have been investigated to design
currently considered in education. an appropriate constructivist approach to informally teach
Introducing 3D printing into classrooms transforms design concept and to enhance the ability to reconstruct
learning and changes both the way middle-school students or reality in preparing representations within a realistic design
young learners learn and the way educators teach, context. Along these lines, the researcher considers the
particularly because it supports the constructionist approach general research questions of how schools in developing
to education [19]. Learning through making, ‘edu-making’, countries can creatively incorporate 3D design and 3D
not just it brings 3D printing into the curriculum but it also printing into teaching for the production of custom-made
shows the three dimensional concepts as another creative pedagogical tools.
aspect of e-learning strategy in the classroom. In her
continuing efforts to improve children's skills in reasoning How using the 3D printing technologies in design
and thinking creatively thorough art learning practices, the education supports reasoning skills building and concept
researcher seeks in this project-based learning proposal to attainment?
keep up with the latest developments in the field of 3D
digital technologies that target not only adult learners but DESIGN THINKING CONSTRUCTIVISM IN 3D PRINTING
also children and teens. In relation to a previous study [12], VISIONARY
the researcher proclaimed that the use of well-tempered The exploration of the 3D printing process in Alexandria
educational applications that aspire towards visual art in national schools which could be generalizable to other
computer-mediated environments transfer new ways of developing regions is cost-effective. Educators cannot afford
thinking and employ the creative ability to originate new to keeping up with such new technologies and are tingly
ideas. Combining 3D technologies, as a tool to support exploring effective design principles for creating
instruction, with a guided analytical perception of Piet collaborative design/make project to bridge the space
Mondrian’s geometric abstraction, middle-school students or between cyberspace and physical reality. Therefore
young learners will learn creative concepts in the basis of integrating 3D printing technologies into collaborative
design and reasoning thinking skills. projects surely helps overcome challenges in this respect and
3D printing involves 3D shapes processing and enables the creation of knowledge-related disciplines.
modeling forms which can be easily understood by touching The researcher was particularly interested to contribute
multi-level surfaces. ‘Touching More Than Viewing or a project-based learning strategy as a pedagogical tool to
Observing’- draws in children by transducing interactive introduce middle-school students or young learners to the
content into tactile vision. 3D printing changes the very creative side of geometric abstraction. She addresses the
nature of the exploration process, renders the relation potential benefits of applying the 3D printing technologies in
between ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ stable. When it comes to transforming constructivist learning into action to teaching
the influence of 3D printing technologies on education thinking. This technique may be successful in the case of
reform, the delivery of new design thinking has been abstract geometry, such as in the work generated by
radically changed along [13]. The ‘making’ reinforces the Mondrian in order to combine design with technical and
‘seeing’ as a means of expressing and communicating functional solutions for middle-school students or young
symbolic ideas. This option helps middle-school students or learners to gain design concepts. As art educator
young learners re-vision. They dynamically link their ideas programming and librarian designing activities for children
and practices about abstraction and representation, move and teens, the researcher noticed that the presentation of the
between the visible and the invisible as an important part of visual elements of abstract art, particularly color, shape,
the design experiment process. Therefore, educators refocus form, and space, alters the ability to view, think, and feel.
their attention from the virtual environment to the real Adapting the design thinking constructivism approach
world, where 3D printed shapes can be touched. allows for middle-school students or young learners’
The basic idea of this approach is to reduce design understandings and meaning making [21]. The finding of the
concept to its most fundamental forms in order to translate previous survey discussing visual art forms and creative-
abstract arts concepts into concrete understanding. In related skills was sought as the basis for restructuring the
combination with smart technology, middle-school students application design [18].
or young learners will manipulate geometric shapes in two-
and three-dimensional space, perform mathematical EXPERIMENT
simulations, create 3D prototypes and models built up in
layers that are abstract, take digital creations of structures, As vision is a synthetic sense, touch is analytic [22], the
and turn them into reality. study emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between
touching by hand and concept development. ‘tactual-

2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

visuality’ allows sensing parts of the whole, further the learning to developing a level of familiarity with important
exploration and clarification of concepts and abstract ideas aspects of visual language of shape, form, space, color and
to those standard 2D images or 3D visual dynamic reference line, which in turn opens up a new range of skills including
which are difficult to describe. For these reasons, tactual- 3D spatial awareness, components visualization, and
visuality inspires middle-school students or young learners analytical reasoning.
to start ideating, rethink geometric relationships and
incorporate pieces that are a hybrid. On the other hand, using
physical models demonstrates better understanding of
important relationships between form, shapes, composition,
and function. As a result, adjusting the relationship among
the elements, they realize new ideas in order to control how
their visual read is perceived and release new perceptions
and meanings. The high-impact potential of 3D printing on
the exploration process, from design to production, opens up
new possibilities for broad learning activities. Therefore, this
creative 3D realism approach focuses on how to efficiently
produce real-time extensible manipulative exploration and
Within the framework of constructionism in non-formal Going beyond the pictorial work of Mondrian to shape
context, the activities are carried out through constructivist, new understandings and explorations of materials and
reflective practices, in which teacher-centered knowledge is concepts, middle-school students or young learners first
replaced by student-centered approaches that emphasize the learn construction concepts in space to design a 3D scale-
active and constructed character of knowledge [23], we shaped block: they will use digital 3D modeling software to
attempted to run our experimental project using the design- generate 3D printable models or search for 3D models that
based thinking methodology to shaping meaning into are available for download on the web (Standard prototyping
expressive and comprehensible ideas. This paper is a part of file format).
an ongoing exploratory project that tries to perceive to what Figure 2, 3, and 4 demonstrate the project process that
extent the ability to actually make something tangible can combines the powerful benefits of the computer and the
make ideas less abstract. The instructional activities are practical applications of digital fabrication techniques. Using
designed to facilitate full integration of design thinking perceptible 3D materials as representation of abstract ideas,
which involves imaging, ideating, modeling, and link them middle-school students or young learners will work in small
with the aesthetic field of making, presenting, and teams, each team sketch and model prototypes utilizing
evaluating. children-friendly modeling software, such as Tinkercad,
SketchUp, or Autodesk Fusion360, and turn them into 3D
PARTICIPANTS printed reality to get a sense of scale and feel. The approach
remains constructionist in core, with sort of understanding
In total, forty-five participants will take part in the the structure of abstract geometric design, each team is
experiment; aged 11–14 years students from 15 private taking part in the design process. Middle-school students or
middle schools in Alexandria will be selected based on their young learners are tasked to make models, transforming
artistic skills, to collaboratively design and produce 3D their ‘thoughts into things’.
prototypes with the aid of 3D design platform applications
and 3D desktop printers. The final piece shall be a
combination of geometric forms as 3D architectural
experiment. Middle-school students or young learners are
expected to demonstrate the ability to: show a response
from direct observation, model 3D geometric relationships,
maintain a project's architectural integrities from conception
to realization, translate ideas into different touchable forms,
and to make and evaluate in a continuum.
The project will start with a pilot program in which we
will target explicitly the representation of geometric
abstracts in spatial symbols in Mondrian’s architectural
compositions to create in the mind of the student perceptions
and senses of basic concepts in architecture. Figure I FIGURE 2
illustrates in this process that the emphasis does not A SKETCHED THREE-DIMENSIONAL GEOMETRIC MODEL (LINEAR
necessarily have to be on depicting or imitating, but more on COMPOSITIONS)

2017 IEEE Integrated STEM Conference (ISEC)

• Extend the relationship between tactual perception and

• Improve understanding and enhance reasoning thinking
skills throughout the length of the activity
• Evoke creative responses for learning the details in
geometric abstraction and the art of basic geometric
form in 3D design
• Develop a method for generating 3D forms for the
transition from the abstract to the concrete level
The goal of bringing such technology into
extracurricular activities is to demonstrate how the 3D
printing technology modifies the characterization of
‘learning-teaching’ routes in order to achieve more
coherence in the learning content.
The latest technologies of 3D printers bring tremendous
opportunities for future research, relating to using both the
devices in classrooms and the appropriate development of
applications. 3D printing has been incorporated into learning
and pedagogy in fields beyond STEM education. Currently,
much research relates primarily to the improvement of
STEM instruction however, little research has been done
related to the development of 3D printing applications in art
education and even less research regarding proper pedagogy
of using 3D specialization to improve visual-tactual
perception, geometry conceptual thinking, and architectural
design exploration. It has been noted, by the researcher, that
none but experienced art educators can only explore how to
FIGURE 4 conduct their educational activity processes that can benefit
SIDE VIEW from such recreation opportunities, matching geometric
abstraction and 3D print modeling, as a means to afford a
In their next step, they create their own hands-on motivating and realistic context for problem solving and
manipulatives via additive digital fabrication techniques. reasoning.
Middle-school students or young learners decide what It is recommended that researchers explore how the
filament types (PLA, Flexible, or wood) to use for the reshaping of 3D technologies in modelling can offer
production of their 3D tactile prints. Several materials can be innovative perspectives for changing the traditional
combined into one entity in one process. They experiment approaches which educators have inherited in creating
with combining resized 3D shapes and forms while they are aesthetically, meaningful simulated learning experiences.
building their models. More reflections and suggestions should be geared towards
The final aspect of the project is to create a composition the benefits to building a manipulative model that go beyond
with these 3D-printed scale models, formulate an assembled a printout of a rendered image to connect informal
model built up from the building blocks according to the understanding of perceptions to concrete reality.
abstract rules of geometry in Piet Mondrian’s composition.
The objectives of this project are to:
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October 21, 2016. Programming Coordinator, Special Collections & Services
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