Making It Real

Creating a 3D printing blueprint for the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by George Velez

CREDIT DremelThere’s no doubt that 3D printing technology has hit the market, and it’s hit hard. The global 3D printing market is expected to grow by $11.8 billion by 2018, a growth that is fueling the efficiency of prototyping and product development – as well as the innovation of new ideas for its implications. The most prominent uses for 3D printing — a technology that has existed for nearly three decades — largely live in the engineering, manufacturing and healthcare industries. While improvements to 3D printing technology have welcomed new, widespread applications, its use in the classroom is where innovation truly begins.

Today’s young learners can approach 3D modeling to visualize and understand abstract concepts and processes, and then apply that understanding to uncover new solutions across subject areas.

What sets 3D printing in education apart is its ability to provide a scalable and flexible technology in a safe, low-risk environment. Today’s young learners can approach 3D modeling to visualize and understand abstract concepts and processes, and then apply that understanding to uncover new solutions across subject areas.

Introducing 3D printing technology to the classroom, however, requires more than affordable, safe equipment. It requires a full-circle approach for educators and students to embrace experiential learning.

Why 3D Printing?

Growth rates in STEM careers are expected to outpace those of any other occupation over the next decade (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Today’s students will be entering the workforce at this unique point in new job creation, making problem-solving skills critical for navigating careers that don’t even exist yet.

3D printing allows students to see processes from beginning to end. They can test, analyze and modify ideas in both the design and production stages. It gives learners a fluid model for approaching problems through trial-and-error.

“As part of experiential learning, 3D printing technologies allow students to become active creators and problem solvers, rather than passive learners and consumers. […] 3D printing technologies, as a conduit for experiential learning, brings best practices into the classroom,” writes Linda H. Lewis and Carol J. Williams in Experiential Learning: Past and Present.

In a near future where STEM reaches nearly every profession, we are redefining what it means to be “creative.” A willingness to approach new ideas and accept failure as an opportunity to learn is fundamental to navigating the professional field.

The 3D printing process is optimal for honing creative thinking skills because it gives students the freedom to create a project that represents new ways of thinking.

Sizing 3D Printing for Your Classroom

Opportunity for the far-reaching applications of 3D printing can instead present challenges for educators looking to introduce the technology to appropriate grade levels and standards.

Furthermore, a similar dilemma arises when choosing the right 3D printer. To put the availability of affording printers in context, the primary driver for consumer-grade 3D printers that cost under $2,500 are schools and universities (Garner, Forecast: 3D Printers, Worldwide, 2015).

When selecting from the range of 3D printing features and capabilities, educators should consider these four factors: ease-of-use, maintenance/durability, safety and training/support.

Ease-of-use:

Educators sometimes fall into the trap of tailoring lesson plans to the capabilities of technology, instead of what the technology can offer their instruction. One way to change this mindset is to find a simple, intuitive design to ensure that the 3D printer is not a distraction to learning.

With an easy-to-use, out-of-the-box design, students feel more comfortable approaching 3D printing technology and take lead in the design and production process. A hands-off approach from educators allows students to take ownership in their learning experience, and gives them the confidence to embrace new learning opportunities.

Maintenance/durability:

One of the biggest unforeseen issues to 3D printing can be the printer’s durability in classrooms. Not all commercial models are built for daily use from multiple students. Educators should be able to rely on a 3D printer to work in order to avoid taking time away from learning.

Research reviews for different models you’re considering to find out what a day-to-day user experience is like.

Safety:

Safety comes first, especially in the classroom. Most 3D printers are a safe tool for students but can tempt younger students to tamper with machinery that operates at high temperatures. Opt for a fully enclosed design that keeps hands and fingers away out of the machinery.

Safety in 3D printing also refers to safety for the environment. Not all available filament types are made from efficient, recyclable material, like PLA filament.

Training and Support in Education:

Some 3D printing manufacturers serve the education market and have a better understanding of classroom needs. Look into what supplementary materials resources are available, like curriculum-based lesson plans and web-based tutorials that can help you hit the ground running with 3D printing.

Before purchasing, it’s wise to have a plan for how you can address questions that arise during set-up or in day-to-day use. Consider looking into customer support models that can provide real-time feedback and advice.

Getting Started

Ready to try 3D printing? The U.S. Department of Education has invited schools to compete for $200,000 and additional in-kind prizes in the CTE Makeover Challenge.

George Velez is senior manager of Dremel 3D Education, manufacturer of the 3D Idea Builder printer.

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