Once a novelty in many classrooms and makerspaces, 3D printers are again flourishing as valuable classroom tools thanks to advanced technology, lower costs and more products and services geared toward K–12 education.
Both manufacturers and educators are leveraging the benefits of 3D printers in education. 3D modeling and printers can bring almost any educational concept to life, while building practical skills such as problem-solving, creative coding and design.
3D Printing Engages Students
A study by Macquarie University in Australia and educational technology company Makers Empire confirms what’s easy for educators to observe — 3D lessons engage students, enabling them to learn advanced concepts and skills.
A recent article in Additive Manufacturing offers a wide-ranging literature review of the studies on 3D printing in the classroom.
While there’s a great deal of information to digest, the article points out that many benefits of 3D printing go beyond math and science comprehension. 3D printing also supports inclusion efforts for students of various learning styles and improves collaboration and speaking skills.
“Active-learning technology allows them to move from consuming information to creating and thinking on a deeper level,” Britten said.
How Teachers and Students Use 3D Printing in Today’s Classrooms
The subjects and projects that use 3D printing are almost limitless, especially in science, technology, engineering and math classes:
- At Harlan Rowe Middle School in Athens, Pa., eighth grader Braelynn Wood took up her STEM class challenge to “make the world a better place” by designing and 3D-printing a new holder for the school’s badminton net.
- A team of students from Murtaugh School District in Idaho used a 3D printer to create a solar-powered motion-sensing alarm to keep deer and elk out of fields.
- At Aiken County Career and Technology Center in South Carolina, students in a computer-aided drafting and design course designed and printed a wheelchair for a dog.
- Lawrence University has a list of creative 3D projects for all grades, pre-K through high school, including a project for younger students to design and print their own nests for a unit on birds.
Manufacturers Offer 3D Printing Curriculum Support
Although simply making the technology work can be a challenge in an active makerspace, it can be even more daunting for educators to successfully integrate 3D printers into the curriculum.
Companies such as MakerBot are filling that gap with specific training aimed at both teachers and students. MakerBot’s 3D printing certification programs are self-paced, online courses for individuals or entire districts. Students learn about 3D printer operation and design thinking. The teacher’s course is more involved, with units on product operation and troubleshooting, as well as curriculum development and classroom integration.
Other manufactures and service providers are jumping into the mix by providing curriculum support:
- In addition to certifications, MakerBot offers a free 3D-printing educators’ guidebook with STEM-based learning projects, an educators community forum and more than 100 lessons on its educational website, Thingiverse.
- Educational 3D printer manufacturer VariQuest has created the STEM:IT curriculum. The project-based lessons include STEM concepts such as coding and 3D design and provide instructors with resources such as poster templates, 3D print files and step-by-step guides.
- XYZprinting, a Taiwanese 3D printer manufacturer, provides a complete K–12 STEAM curriculum to accompany its hardware, which is specifically designed for classroom use.
- Robo, which designs 3D printers for classrooms, teamed up with MyStemKits.com to offer K–12 educators printers with more than 240 built-in 3D STEM lessons.
- When Kodak launched its newest 3D printer, the company partnered with learnbylayers to offer high-quality lessons, projects and assessments for educational purchasers.
K–12 Schools Collaborate with Third Parties to Support 3D Printing
In addition to corporate resources, higher learning institutions are partnering with K–12 schools to offer resources and training.
At Penn State, a weekend workshop for educators focused on how to use 3D design software and printers.
“The availability of 3D printing helps educators to leverage technology and apply math modeling in teaching math concepts in most classrooms,” said Reuben Asempapa, assistant professor of mathematics education in a blog post for Penn State Harrisburg. “[I]t makes mathematics more meaningful. … It shows how we can make use of math to investigate real world applications.”
One of the most unique partnerships is between Auburn University, Huntsville City Schools and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, formerly known as AMRDEC. Students work on real-world projects and participate in problem-solving and research.
How K–12 Schools Can Fund 3D Printing Programs
Although costs are coming down, 3D printers are difficult to afford for most school budgets. Many resources are available for K–12 institutions that want to build up 3D capabilities.
- 3D Hubs, an online 3D printing service for manufactures, provides $1,000 grants toward innovative student 3D design projects.
- General Electric is investing in the next generation of designers and engineers through its GE Additive Education Program by bestowing 3D printers on more than 400 primary and secondary schools, as well as donating the technology to colleges and universities.
- Educators can apply for a grant from Toshiba America Foundation through the Makers Empire website.
- MakerBot offers a free grant resource guide for 3D printer programs.
The benefits of 3D printing for students — engagement, deeper learning and the strengthening of workforce skills — are vast. The challenge of implementing the technology can sometimes seem even greater. By learning more about the educational benefits, collaboration opportunities, how to introduce 3D printing into the classroom and where to find funding resources, teachers, schools and districts will be even more prepared to help students today become the makers of tomorrow.