Think Outside the Box: New library club helps kids design 3-D creations

The Outside the Box Club at La Jolla Library encourages future engineers to, well, think outside the box. Formed in September, the club is for ages 10-18. It meets 3:30-5 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month (and 9:30-11 a.m. the second and fourth Saturdays) at 7555 Draper Ave.

Instructor Marco Balcazar compares club activities to finding a poem to give a loved one. He explained: You could go online, find a poem, print it out and give it to the person — or you could write your own. Similarly, you could go onto Thingyverse or some other platform for 3-D printing, find something and click “print,” or you could come up with something on your own, design it and make it. 3-D printing uses melted biodegradable plastic to print objects that can be decorative or functional, layer by layer. 

Rather than supervise the printing of pre-programmed figurines, Balcazar said he wants kids to come up with their own objects to create. “With 3-D printing, you can easily prototype whatever you have in your mind,” he said. “It’s not just about 3-D printing … I want club members to be 3-D makers.” 

Speaking from example, Balcazar said he needed a vertical shoe rack, so rather than purchase one, he 3-D printed four-pronged connectors so he could build his own using wooden dowels. 

During a recent meeting, Balcazar answered questions and asked participants to evaluate problems they might run into when making something on a 3-D printer. He posed, “If printing a figurine person with their arm out, how are you going to print the arm so it can be attached without the plastic dripping down?”

His question struck a chord with Ben Davis, 13, a student at Muirlands Middle School, who said he loves baseball and wondered how he could create a figurine of a player with his bat in the air. But more than creating figures, Ben said he is interested in the varied uses for 3-D printing, “I really like engineering, so practical uses for 3-D printing in everyday life is cool to me.”

— Find more information about the club at

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