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

Outside the Box club
Instructor Marco Balcazar and 13-year-old Ben Davis discuss 3-D printing. The box in the foreground is similar to the shoe rack Marco made at home.
(Ashley Mackin)

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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