Just a few years ago, 3D printing sounded like something out of a sci-fi film, and yet now it is already beginning to appear in classrooms.
This should not come as a complete surprise. Back in 2012, the Department for Education funded a trial with 21 schools to explore the potential use of 3D printers across science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. Although the technology was still in its infancy, researchers found that “science and mathematics classrooms reported high levels of pupil motivation when engaged in printing projects”.
Motivation should not be the only aim of 3D printing use, though. The most important aspect to consider when integrating this technology – and any technology – into the classroom is whether it enhances, enriches or transforms the learning and understanding of the work being done.
I believe 3D printing has the power to do this. Here are few examples of how it could be used across the curriculum.
3D printing in the classroom
Students can print out their own historical artefacts to share and examine with their peers. Instead of researching people and places in books, students can touch and feel objects in the lesson, helping to commit the experiences and reflections to memory.
Students can create replica human body parts to dissect, or even build their own DNA strands from 3D printed elements. When studying ecosystems, classes can create their own insects and produce a narrative around the role of bugs within our environment. This could be extended into the study of entomology, which requires students to know the various body parts of an insect. Through a 3D-printed model, they can learn the structure of parts through experience, rather than rote memorisation.
Older students can create original 3D artwork and sculpture to showcase in exhibitions, while younger children may wish to create eye-catching decorations to take home.
There is also a place for 3D printing in English. Instead of re-enacting key scenes from texts through role play or video, students can create models of scenes and produce a narrative to complement their design.
Students can 3D print an instrument of their choice or perhaps, better yet, could be encouraged to design and create a whole new type of instrument. They could, for example, integrate engineering, maths and the science of sound to create a new kind of woodwind instrument that shares the same family properties. You could extend this further and even put together a 3D-printed orchestra to play for an audience.
The use of 3D printers means that abstract mathematical concepts can become readily represented in the classroom. A 3D-printed parabola, for example, can help clarify students’ understanding of complex mathematical line concepts that have previously only been described in textbooks and by the teacher.
And you can encourage students to create their own mathematical learning experiences using 3D printing and design. When students see these opportunities, this can lead to stimulating and curious discussions about mathematics.
You can use technology to find solutions to real-life problems in the community, just as these students in Australia did when they cleverly designed and 3D-printed a secure clip to hold up straps on the leg of a toddler who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Or you could challenge your classes to develop sustainable products, such as plastic coffee cup sleeves, which reduce the demand for the disposable sleeves provided in cafes.
A 3D printer can also tap into creative potential and problem-solving skills. The possibilities are endless and the process of innovation, trial and error, and manipulation, could inspire the next generation of engineers, architects and designers to model their own futures.
But what about the cost? It is much cheaper to access 3D printing than it once was, with affordable desktop models such as the Ultimaker 2+ and 3 and free resources from The CREATE Education Project. CREATE’s Education Loan Scheme also offers schools the opportunity to borrow machines for no cost. This is a technology that could spark a whole new level of learning, as well as inspire the creative minds of present and future generations.
The CREATE Education Project will be showcasing 3D printers and their classroom resources at the Bett Show 2019. Come along to Stand B164 at the ExCel London between 23-26 January 2019 to find out more.
Dr Neelam Parmar is director of e-learning at Ashford School in Kent