1In recent years, three-dimensional, or 3D, printing technology has experienced rapid development. In just the past year, 3D printing improvements have been found in various technologies such as printers for use in the home, as well as 3D pens for doodling with. As the accessibility of 3D printing has increased, so has the quality of the finished products and the range of materials that can be used to do the printing. Stereolithography, which is a process of additive manufacturing that uses layering of liquid that quickly solidifies, is expected to have a significant role in 3D printing in upcoming years. This process is predicted to vastly increase the detail and flexibility of the finished products. The new 3D printing is applied in many areas of society, including manufacturing and production, medicine, jewelry and art, game design, fashion design, architectural modeling and interior design. The process of 3D printing also has a growing role in education.

Interactive Learning

Interactive learning evolved from the use of digital technology and virtual communication systems used in educational institutions. It replaced the use of classic tools like pencils, paper and chalk boards and is used in all aspects of classroom learning. Interactive learning is also used outside of the classroom, and 3D printing has an increasingly important role in extracurricular learning opportunities, such as invention conventions and science fairs. Technology has increased reliance on interactive learning and has produced a revolution in the most basic processes of education from preschool through graduate school.

3D Printing in Education

Even though many pieces of 3D printing equipment are too expensive to be used regularly in the classroom, the printing process does facilitate interactive in-class learning. In addition to the cost, another hindrance of regular use of 3D printing in the classroom is the lack of widespread knowledge that is necessary for this kind of technology to be applied to everyday education. 3D printers are a natural choice for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based schools, as this initiative prepares students to excel in these areas of study.

2An Educational Revolution

3D printing is beginning to revolutionize education for all students. Instead of using linear educational methods, teachers are no longer just transmitting information to students; instead, they are facilitating the learning experience. Educators are able to create a more engaging, hands-on curriculum that inspires children to learn. Concepts that have historically been difficult to grasp can be easily demonstrated with three-dimensional visual aids. Being able to use 3D printers to produce realistic looking, tangible three dimensional models create interactive class activities that keep students interested.

3D Technology at Young Ages

To make the most of 3D technology, it should be introduced to even young students. This is because preschool and young grade school children tend to learn faster. Even so, the technology should be applied at all grades and educational levels. Instead of just considering the finished project, students should be encouraged to experiment with the modeling and designing processes, as well as the software used for 3D designs. Teachers and students can download or scan models from many resources, but they should most often use the types of software that provide the best support for their preferred ways of working and thinking. The advancement of education technology has provided educators with a myriad of resources filled with ideas and curricula for any subject matter. The valuable resources for utilizing 3D printing in the classroom are no exception to educational technology.

3Elementary School Learners

3D printing technology can be updated to work for any grade level, depending on students’ knowledge and experience. Early elementary grade students will benefit from 3D models in subjects such as biology, in which the educator could make a model human organ. In history classes, educators can make exact replicas of ancient artifacts like arrowheads. The models facilitate tactile learning and the grasping of abstract concepts. These students also benefit from making their own designs, especially of historical structures. 3D printing creates tactile tools that help students to understand abstract and sophisticated math concepts, such as the parabola. A printed manipulative demonstrated at the MIND Research Institute’s Math Fair helped children understand how the ‘b’ co-efficient in the quadratic equation (y = ax2 + bx + c) affects the shape of the parabola’s curve. Software packages like Mathematica allow students to translate algebraic expressions into 3D forms, which can be programmed into the 3D printer and created as tangible objects.

High School Learners

Because high school learners think more logically and critically about their designs, they can use 3D prints as part of the design and engineering process. In geography, for example, 3D printed models help students to visualize and understand terrain and geological features. Students can also begin creating their own 3D maps by obtaining the digital latitude, longitude and elevation markers of ground surface topography in a DEM file. The students then open and edit the DEM file and use the appropriate software package, such as AcuTrans3D. The software allows students to make adjustments to the digital information, which is then saved as an .stl or stereolitography file. This file is scaled to an appropriate size for printing on a particular model of 3D printer based on the printing material that is used. This technology can also be used with advanced level high school classes such as engineering, multi-media arts, organic chemistry, physics and trigonometry, which all use more sophisticated and complicated software.

Patricia Dimick is a freelance writer and tech enthusiast from Denver who likes to keep up with the innovations in the digital world and share her insights with like-minded people. Feel free to reach her @Patricia_Dimick

[Image credits: FryskLab on Flickr ; fdecomite on Flickr ; Creative Tools on Flickr]

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