3D printing in the classroom – An accessible way to engage your students

3D printing has grown from a niche hobby reserved for makers and technicians to a widely utilised tool to educate young people in becoming STEM leaders of the future.
When speaking to educators, the two most common statements we hear are “We need to get a 3D printer for our school” or, more importantly, “We have a 3D printer, but we don’t know what to do with it!”.

Some example 3D Printed Marty the Robots
Some of the Martys and accessories we’ve 3D Printed

It is accepted that there is a **general lack of confidence** in implementing 3D printing in the classroom. Even some educators that have the necessary confidence, struggle to find an appropriate application within their classroom. This article has been written to try and ease the anxiety of 3D printing and demonstrate why the platform is an easy and cheap way to inject creativity and fun alongside valuable learning opportunities.

Why is it an essential tool for the classroom?

* **Helps to engage reluctant learners:** 3D printing is now more accessible than ever before. However, it is still a relatively new concept and with any new technology, it’s super exciting to get involved with! This acts to motivate all students to get involved and engages them in tasks they would have otherwise avoided. Additionally, 3D printing introduces an opportunity to perform typically spacial and linguistic tasks more kinaesthetically, opening the tasks to learners that are often challenged by the traditional classroom structure. Due to the open nature that creative learning facilitates, all students no matter their learning capacity can engage in whatever way suits them best.

* **Teaches Cooperation and the importance of roles within a group:** Social and community skills are at the forefront of any young person’s education. One way to construct these skills is to work in a cooperative environment with your peers. The 3D printing process can facilitate this, given its likeness to the commonly taught design process. There are several complex roles in every product development process and each role must be fulfilled in order to foster success during a project. The process of assigning roles gives the students the responsibility for their individual portion of the project, building confidence and engagement.

Marty the Robot goes Disco – An example of 3D printing to modify your Robots

* **Supports the physical off-screen potential of digital tools:** In an ever-shifting world, digital lead education is on the rise. The internet allows us to find any information in just a click and software such as Scratch helps to make coding an accessible process. However, we can begin to lose sight of the value in real tangible objects. There is a host of learning processes that cannot be actioned through digital means and require physical engagement. 3D printing is a platform that not only allows for interaction in both worlds but actually requires it. Objects can be conceptualised and ideated in the physical world, then requiring the design to be actioned using a digital 3D design software. Finally, the parts are physically printed to provide a tangible object to interact with. The value that is gained through physical interaction cannot be challenged. With physical interaction, the student gains the opportunity to evaluate their design and then iterate, having had the opportunity to debug their concept. Methods and learning outcomes like these cannot be found in the digital space alone, and drive one of the greatest positives to a 3D printing project within the classroom.

* **Teaches the power of failure:** further to providing opportunities to physically debug a design outcome, 3D printing offers one of the key processes to foster creativity, the power of failure. When you can quickly produce a low-cost physical part, you can afford to let your creative juices flow and make mistakes. With every failed attempt you learn what not to do. This builds a (sort of) subconscious “spell checker” in the head of each student that helps to debug design decisions before they’re made increasing confidence and interest in the subject.

* **Brings art back and fosters invention: ** Creativity can sometimes be underplayed in a young person’s education. It’s easy to forget that creativity helps fuel every discipline from Architecture to Zoology. It is also one of the main drivers for a large portion of young people today. 3D printing brings art and design back into the classroom, offering creative ways to be inventive and become a leader in your own education.

I’m an Educator wanting to introduce 3D printing to my students, any advice?

* In the beginning, only let the students design the parts and then watch it print. A technician or the classroom teacher should; be the one that is maintaining and setting up the printer. This will prevent the pupils from becoming disengaged with the operational processes that can be potentially challenging for younger pupils

* Start small and build your way up as you learn. The kids will be fascinated with anything that prints no matter how big and complicated.

* Always Let the students be inventive. The most valuable learning opportunities are results of failed prints. Getting every student to design and produce the exact same cube opposes every learning principle that 3D printing brings into the classroom.

* Give your students the opportunity to iterate their designs. Again, printing just one item doesn’t give you the opportunity to learn from your findings during the first “prototype”. The design process is a valuable learning exercise and it should be followed in order to give the students the opportunity to learn all they can.

* Don’t worry! you will never be short of support. 3D printing has a huge community of active users that are always happy to help support any questions you may have.

Good luck with your 3D printing adventures in the classroom. We look forward to seeing what you have created!