3D printing is a low-cost approach to learning perfectly suited for classrooms. A 3D printer is a powerful and versatile tool to have as its use inspires planning, design, testing and many other talents essential to today’s careers. 3D printing embodies the concepts of iterative design as students evaluate and re-design creations. The process encourages higher thinking and creativity.
Schools that have adopted 3D printing are seeing amazing results among students. The creative process involved in planning and printing 3D objects motivates students to achieve further success. 3D printing enables interactive learning and a more meaningful exploration of physical principles that students can’t get from two-dimensional photos and diagrams.
A Revolution in Education
3D printing allows students to materialize their ideas to explore them as tangible items. 3D printing makes it possible for abstract concepts in many sciences or mathematics to be produced as visual, solid objects to better illustrate the application of ideas. Students, once obliged to passively absorb facts, become active inventors.
Such learning methods help transform them from future consumers to industry leaders. Students better retain concepts by seeing them realized in material form. Whether it be solving algebraic puzzles or designing products, the ways 3D printing can be used in the classroom are numerous.
Using 3D printing, science classes can create construction sets for studying complex molecules. Dissecting dead frogs may be outdated by printing plastic versions. Your students of history can handle replicas of ancient artifacts. Business students can create and refine their own innovative products. Architectural and engineering students can print scale models to better visualize results. Finally, art teachers can recreate famous statues and provide their own plastic tools such as palettes or sculpting implements.
One of the advantages of 3D printing is the fact that there are practically limitless applications for this technology. However, embracing an exciting new technology can be confusing without a proper game plan. It’s important to not only have a curriculum centered on 3D printing but also to figure out a way to use the technology effectively.
Organize Your Printing
Before you start using 3D printing in your classroom, it is best to have a detailed plan of how you are going to organize the printing jobs. With a classroom full of students eager to use the printer, there will be many who will want to print their items right away and take them straight home.
Since the process of 3D printing can take some time, your students will have to exercise patience while the items finish printing. Let them know that in advance and organize your projects accordingly.
It may be advisable to have students work in teams of three or four. More involved projects will require more planning. For instance, a class of 30 divided into teams of six and working on a five-day schedule will require a month to complete their projects.
Consider the Software
Most 3D printers come with the required software, and can import a variety of .STL files. However, students at different levels will need software that’s comfortable for them to use. There are free programs like Google SketchUp that might be easier for general use.
Some of the mobile apps that are becoming available let you print with a single swipe. Letting students find and compare their own program choices could be a valuable part of the learning experience.
Teachers should always keep in mind that 3D printers work by applying layers of material at high temperatures. Students need to follow safety guidelines, especially keeping hands away from the interior parts of the printer. Plastic filaments melt out of the printer nozzle which could inflict painful burns.
While most responsible manufacturers place the working parts of the printer within a protective enclosure, overzealous students may be tempted to open it and retrieve newly printed items before they cool down. Never allow students to open the door prematurely, even to speed cooling. Use a paint scraper or metal spatula to remove the hot tray or item.
Since a 3D printer is an electrical device involving high temperatures, it should never be left unattended or running overnight. Especially for beginners, operating such equipment should be done with all safety measures observed.
Don’t Pretend You Know Everything
Teachers aren’t expected to be technical wizards in 3D printing. You shouldn’t pretend to be an authority on the subject if you’re out of your depth. Where your knowledge ends you should admit to students that you don’t have the answers, and invite them to take part in solving problems.
One of the benefits of 3D printing is that it’s engaging for teachers as well as students. Learning about the equipment and the way it works, adopting the best methods, and exploring possibilities together with your students makes using 3D printing in the classroom a collaborative process.
3D printing is an exciting innovation in learning, but teachers may have to make adjustments to incorporate it into lesson plans in ways that will achieve the best rewards. Safety is always an issue with high-temperature electrical devices and all students should be made to understand and observe safe practices. Other challenges for teachers include a learning curve of their own on 3D printing issues and equipment, as well as implementing printing schedules and using class-appropriate software. But when you’ve worked out the details, 3D printers are a fascinating and highly rewarding teaching aid.
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[Images: Pixabay]