Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, uses a computer-created design to build an object layer by layer. This is different from the usual subtractive manufacturing, which takes a block of material and chips away until the object is created. Additive manufacturing is poised to be our next great ‘industrial’ revolution thanks to its myriad applications across industries. From rocketry to auto engineering to biomedical technology and conservation efforts, there is a use for 3D printing. To deprive students of access to a technology that will one day become as ubiquitous as a laptop is to seriously hurt their futures. Even if a student won’t work directly with a 3D printer daily, the spatial reasoning and problem-solving skills that are learned will become lifelong advantages. More and more teachers are embracing 3D printers as part of their curriculum as there are ways to work them into almost any lesson plan at any grade level.
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Benefits of Using 3D Printers
For students, taking CAD software, building a design with it, prototyping it, and reiterating the design is a lengthy and difficult process. Even if the student’s design does not turn out as they’d hoped, they are still learning perseverance through following a project through to its completion, and teamwork and communication through working with other students. The hands-on nature of working with a 3D printer helps students to visualize abstract concepts better, for example seeing the structure of molecules or the representation of a mathematical equation. Taking ideas off the paper and into three dimensions can open up deeper levels of understanding and innovation for your students. For teachers, the benefits lie in the flexible nature of building lesson plans for 3D printing. There are CAD softwares for students at all learning levels, and your equipment and technology can improve right alongside your students’ abilities. Even at a basic level, playing games with early learners to teach the basics of coding will put your students at an advantage. There are materials for teaching or incorporating 3D printing for free on the internet, or there are packages that include the technology and the lesson plans all in one. Designed to work with multiple budgets and at multiple education levels, 3D printing is a valuable tool for all classrooms.
Incorporating 3D Printers
Most visibly, teachers are using 3D printers in their STEM lessons. Engineering students are using 3D printers to create prototypes for testing, giving them a taste of what the real world of product development is like. Math lessons can be greatly enhanced by using the real-world applications of 3D scanning and printing, and models for scientific experimentation are made quickly and accurately. Beyond just STEM, teachers are using 3D printers for art and design lessons. With a 3D printer, a student is only limited by her imagination and ingenuity. She can create any object she can imagine, free from the constraints of medium or technical skills. The materials used in 3D printing can create wild sculptures that would be difficult to create by hand. While you wouldn’t think it at first, history and geography teachers, too, can incorporate 3D printing into an effective learning tool. Archaeology students use 3D scanning and printing technologies to make digital and physical twins of rare artifacts that can be manipulated safely without disturbing the artifact itself. Damaged monuments can be restored with 3D-printed parts designed to fit an imprecise shape precisely. Geographers can 3D print landscapes and terrain at a smaller scale in order to make bird’s-eye view observations. For special education teachers, 3D printers are tools that make learning available to all. They are able to create educational aids for accessible curriculum content. And, they are making custom adaptive devices so that students who would ordinarily would not participate in some activities are now able to. Democratizing access to education means making sure that all students have a seat at the table.
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A Compelling Case Study
The STARBASE program in Louisiana found its curriculum greatly enhanced by introducing 3D printers. STARBASE is an after-school program that is taught to fifth grade and, in some locations, middle school and high school. During the program, students have to design and create their own rockets to participate in The American Rocketry Challenge. Through using 3D printers to produce some of the rocket parts, instructors discovered the passion that 3D printing ignited in the students. It gave students a reason to learn CAD software, and why the math and the science behind it work. Getting kids engaged after a day full of classes can be a challenge, but STARBASE uses 3D printers to get things exciting again. (You can read more about the STARBASE program here.)
The main barrier to bringing 3D printers into your classroom will likely be cost. Because of technological advances, 3D printers are now available at a variety of price points for teachers. Thinking about this 3D printer as an investment rather than a cost can make the decision easier. If you operate your machine properly, you can save money down the line. Properly storing and using 3D printing materials will save money as material waste can be a huge problem with improper machine use. Using your 3D printer properly may include turning it off over the summer, and conducting routine maintenance to avoid material build-up and malfunctions. Another barrier is not the machine itself, but the training to use it. Getting teachers trained to not only use 3D printing but also teach 3D printing is an investment of time that some can’t afford to make. While there is some training online, we offer hands-on training that covers the setup, use, and maintenance of the machines we sell.
However, it is obvious that the benefits outweigh the challenges. The future of 3D printing in education is looking bright. As the price of 3D printers goes down and the number of resources rise, accessibility will no longer be an issue. Utilizing 3D printing in your teaching, no matter the subject can be an effective way to keep students engaged and foster deeper learning. You are not just teaching your students for the future, you are teaching them for life.
To learn more about using 3D printers in your curriculum or selecting a 3D printer, give us a call!