3D Printing is a Powerful Tool for STEAM Education

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In a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, it was found that scientists who win the Nobel Prize are also nearly three times as likely to have a hobby in the arts than the general scientific population. The idea that science also benefits the arts is one with which the West has been familiar at least since the time of Leonardo da Vinci. The idea that science and art are somehow not only separate, but also diametrically opposed, activities is one that is on its last legs and nowhere is that more apparent than in STEAM education.

steam-education-3d-printingScience, math, technology, and engineering have, for the last 75 years or so, been seen as the highest priorities for education. The view that insufficient educational opportunities or emphasis were being provided in these areas led to the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education programs designed to re-center these subjects.

Unfortunately, during the same time period, the idea that education in art and the humanities was useless and frivolous also rose to dominate thought. Those areas have seen continually decreased funding, denigration in popular discourse, and even demonization. The result of their continual sidelining can be seen in a lack of development of empathy, underdeveloped creativity, and the failure to develop strong critical and holistic thinking skills. We can see the dire consequences of such a program of exclusion in the civic arena of the United States today.

Recently, a realization that the arts hold a vital place in the development of thought has led to their reintroduction into STEM programs, thereby turning them in to the adorably acronymed STEAM programs: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Possibly the only thing standing between education as it is now and the reintroduction of the humanities is the lack of an equally clever acronym. Also, of course, the fact of the matter is that once the humanities are reintroduced, what we really have is just Education, no qualifiers necessary, something desperately needed, but an issue that I will leave for another day.

minitoy-eduIn any case, there is little room for doubt that 3D printing is providing a powerful tool no matter what the subject matter. Whether it is used to create a physical model of a complex mathematical concept or to aid in the expression of an artistic idea, teachers and students alike are finding 3D printing to be an invaluable tool. The very magic of 3D printing alone can actually increase student motivation. Teacher Amber Smith from Cowan Road Middle School, a school in a troubled district that doesn’t always provide the best environment to keep students focused on learning, has a 3D printer in her classroom and explained what she has seen:

“I have some students who don’t do any kind of work at all, but they’ll do 3D printing. It might be a basic design, but they’ll do something. It’s engaging enough that they actually want to complete assignments and then show them off. They love it.”

For those who may have already been operating under high levels of intrinsic motivation, 3D printing just adds fuel to their fires. For example, student Joe Noble, a mechanical engineering undergraduate at Rochester Institute of Technology, described the excitement of the technology and the connection it created for him between engineering and art:

“Our assignment was to design, build, and play a musical instrument. It was one of my favorite classes that I’ve taken at RIT. I now have a whole other dimension to the possibilities of prototyping. It is a very intriguing field. If I ended up working in it – in the actual development of the processes – I’d be stoked.”

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That’s what makes 3D printing such a valuable resource: in addition to the ‘things’ that it can produce, the very excitement that it kindles in learners as they use it encourages them to continue thinking about it after a particular assignment has come and gone. This is what education is supposed to be, in the words of William Butler Yeats: not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Discuss in the STEAM forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Stratasys]

 

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