With 3D printers slowly making their way into our schools, we assume they are fully being utilized by our teachers. We assume that if we provide the teachers with the equipment they will just start using it right away. The thought of 3D printers gathering dust in workshops not being used? Sounds like madness, but this can often be the case due to a severe lack of training on how to use the machines in lessons. I have lost count the number of times other teachers have visited my school, asking how it works and what do we use it for. Companies have visited and the first thing they ask say is, “how do you actually teach this to children?”
Teachers have even visited as far away as Australia and Taiwan and I have delivered university training sessions for trainee teachers on how to integrate 3D printing into the classroom to help alleviate the lack of a national strategy for 3D printing in education. But is a national strategy the answer? Should a more local level be adopted where there is more chance of ongoing support after the training has taken place.
This was exactly what John Donnelly of St James School in Bolton has adopted. Donnelly, who is the Head of Technology and the creator of the popular Twitter account @educationCPD and the UK’s most popular teacher Facebook group ‘Design and Technology Group’, ran a free after-school workshop on how to start 3D printing in the classroom.
Donnelly explained that, “The aim of the session was to help teachers get started with 3D printing, everyone at the session either had a printer that was not being used, collecting dust was the term two people used! The others had printers, but didn’t know how to set them up, what material to use are were unsure about software and STL files…. as you can imagine the session was ideal for these teachers.”
During the session, Donnelly had the help of local 3D printing supplier Dylan Taylor from The 3D Filament Shop that has just opened in Manchester. Taylor brought along his MakerBot and Digitiser scanner to the event to demonstrate how scanning technology can be used in the classroom. He also donated materials for the session as well. During the event, Donnelly used a MakerBot, Up Mini, and UP2 plus machine to run a “print off” to see if the £1900 MakerBot was better than the £1200 and £550 printer… the £550 printer did the best key ring in the shortest amount of time! There’s a hidden message in there somewhere.
Donnelly explained that the issues with 3D printers not being used in the classroom was a training issue.
“The issue seems to be that a school will invest in buying the printer, but then don’t follow up in giving teachers time to learn the new technology. I benefited from the DfE (Department for Education) funded printer and £5k worth of supply cover to learn to use Autodesk and get to grips with printing,” said Donnelly.
This is what will ultimately decide the future of 3D printing in schools… training. It’s all very well that printer companies give schools an educational discount on equipment, but where is the follow up or the ongoing training? Imagine being given a brand new car but not being taught how to drive it.
How To Manage Print Time In Lessons
As well as training on the 3D printers and scanners, Donnelly also completed some CAD training using Autodesk Inventor (which has released their software free to all schools) and showed the teachers how to model a basic key ring. The next step Donnelly will complete is a follow up training session where teachers will share and provide feedback on how they have been using 3D printing in the classroom and also how to manage print time! Local 3D printing collaboration looks to be the most powerful way to keep 3D printing progressing.