Coming to a classroom near you ... Into another dimension - Solid learning with 3D printing

31st May 2013 at 01:00

Imagine a machine that would allow you to create an anatomically correct model of the human knee joint when teaching a biology lesson, or a wing shape in design and technology exact to 0.01mm. Both at the click of a button. All you would have to do was key in your students' designs, put the machine on the right setting and watch as they took an exact, three-dimensional form before your eyes.

It may sound like something out of Star Trek but the rapid developments in 3D printing are beginning to bring what was once the preserve of science fiction into the classroom.

One of the big players in the market is MakerBot, which was one of the first companies to make 3D printing affordable for the public. The technology has been available to industry for quite some time but desktop 3D printers have until recently been out of reach to the public. MakerBot changed that with a range of excitingly named affordable products, such as the Thing-O-Matic and the Replicator.

Now the New York-based company wants to help schools use 3D print technology. It has developed a range of lesson plans and even offers files that can be downloaded to print, including anatomically correct body parts such as the replica of an inner ear that was taken from an MRI scan of a cadaver.

"The process of designing, inventing and fabricating exposes students to various career paths, such as industrial design and engineering, and allows them to directly engage with the tools used in those fields," the company claims.

One school that is already utilising the potential of 3D printing is ACS Egham International School in Surrey, southeast England, which is using the technology in lessons across the 11-18 age group.

The school's design and technology department installed a Stratasys Objet24 3D printer last summer, which was first used by its 13- and 14-year-olds as part of a robotic design assessment.

Bill Belcher, a design and technology teacher at the school, says the printer enabled his students to create designs that were highly accurate.

"Having a 3D printer in the school is fantastic for projects like these because the children can let their imaginations run free in their designs," Mr Belcher says.

With manufacturers becoming increasingly focused on helping schools utilise 3D printing while making the technology more affordable, it won't be long before a 3D printer is as common in the classroom as an interactive whiteboard.

For MakerBot lesson plans, visit: curriculum.makerbot.com.

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