3D printing is one of the coolest things I have seen in a while, and I’ll admit that I had a major nerd moment when I first heard about it and saw it in action. I mean, c’mon, you are able to print three-dimensional objects…from nothing! I know it takes a little bit of work on your end, you have to learn how to use it, and the software too, but the end result is AMAZING! I got even more excited in October when a fellow CT art teacher presented on how her students were using the 3D printer in art classes! There are several practicing artists who are using a 3D printers as their medium of choice. Check out some of the work being done with 3D printers by practicing artists:
Check out these links to view more work being created:
Meanwhile, there are many K-12 public schools that are starting to take notice of how 3D printers can impact student learning. Many secondary level schools are starting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs. Often times these programs integrate the use of 3D printers into the curriculum, if they have the funding or grants to accommodate the need.
“In the past five years, there has been tremendous growth in the production and use of desktop 3D printers. This growth has been driven by the increasing availability of inexpensive computing and electronics technologies. The ability to rapidly share ideas and intelligence over the Internet has also played a key role in the growth. Growth is also spread widely because Internet communities allow people to share designs that can be manufactured and reengineered without leaving their desks. President Obama even recognized this technological change when he stated, “3D Printing is the wave of the future,” in his 2013 State of the Union Address (Obama, 2013). Educational institutions at all levels are beginning to recognize the value of 3D printing technology and have begun to incorporate these machines into their laboratories. A 3D printer facilitates the interactive instruction in technical concepts and systems consistent with the nation’s focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning initiatives. President Obama has proposed new manufacturing tax breaks that will create more robust research and development spending. This shift in focus is aimed at advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing, to bring a competitive edge back to America (Foroohar and Saporito, 2013)” (Martin, Bowden and Merrill. pp. 30).
Essentially, 3D printing allows the user to create three-dimensional physical objects from a digital file. Printer brands like MakerBot in conjunction with software programs like Thingiverse and Tinkercad allow students to develop original designs to print. (Moorfield-Lang, pp. 70). The learning that surrounds the use of a 3D printer in an educational setting is innumerable. For example, in some school districts they are combining biology classes with art classes. At Rocky Hill High School in Connecticut, one of their art courses “allows students to explore the relationship between biology and art through studio art assignments that address the foundation drawing and digital design goals while incorporating and offering alternative approaches to understanding biology content. Students enrolled in the biology course will spend their laboratory day exercising direct observational drawing and other related skills. The remaining 4 days of the week, students will execute a more rigorous drawing and digital design curriculum per the descriptions below. This course allows students in biology to fulfill their foundation art year and may fulfill the Computer Literacy graduation requirement. Upon completion of this course, students have taken the equivalent of Drawing I and Digital Design I” (Rocky Hill High School Course Offerings, pp. 2). At the annual Connecticut Art Educator’s Association conference the teacher presented the work her students created. One of her students replicated a 4”x4” shape hundreds of times with the 3D printer, and an intricate ear cuff piece as a fashion design, inspired by a shape found in nature. She then found a way to house a heart rate monitor in the ear cuff. The student connected the biology of the human and plants to artwork through the assistance of a 3D Printer.
Some other projects include designing cell phone cases, moving parts for armatures and prosthetics. The benefits to projects like this, really help the students develop high-level problem solving skills, and function at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, create. “Innovation and imagination are repeatedly suggested as crucial characteristics of 21st century students (Friedman & Mandelbaum, 2011; Wagner, 2012). Occasions to explore, create, and redesign offer students opportunities to apply their imaginations through design. 3D printing provides a potential platform for specific skill-based processes, but without the time requirement necessary to directly demonstrate mastery of the associated skillsets. Thus, at a time when manufacturing is becoming more readily accessible for individual users, this drastically reduces time, equipment, and training required for the physical creation of a product. Therefore, design challenges should have increased focus on the design conception, prototyping stage, and evaluation; not necessarily focus on the production and manufacturing of the product” (Sutton, Grubbs, and Ernst, pp. 12).
I think what’s interesting to note is that there are many opportunities to bring together more than one academic course. For example, in RockyHill High School, they combine art and biology. The cellphone case project would require students to combine art and math. Some of the work above is combing natural disasters and art. There are endless possibilities, but the teachers need to be educated first so we can challenge our students to take the leap!
While this technology is promising, there are some challenges that need to be overcome first before there is an impact on student learning. Finances aside, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to using a 3D printer in the class. The teacher would need to familiarize themselves with the device itself, any necessary troubleshooting and materials to make it functions properly, accompanying software to create the digital design files, downloadable templates that are safe for student use, and revisit curriculum and lessons. These all need to happen before the students start classes. Once they start, there is a new set of hurdles that must be overcome. The students would need a basic crash-course on how to use the selected software and the printer. Overtime, once the basic steps were memorized, then the students can work at a higher level.
As these printers become more accessible for schools to access, and course offerings support the use of these printers, student learning will be more engaging. The students will be engaged in a curriculum that is asking them to develop creative solutions to difficult problems.
What do impact do you think 3D printing will have on student learning? Are your schools already utilizing this technology? What are some other projects that you think would be interesting for students to take on? How might we be able to combine more than one academic course to engage the students in a collaborative learning experience?
If you think you are ready to take the plunge, check out MakerBot’s website to find out which 3D printer is best for you! http://www.makerbot.com
And…on a little side note, if you are an educator in desperate need of funding for something like this…you may want to venture over to DonorsChoose.org to start a project to fund your printer. From what I have heard from other educators, many of the 3D printer companies are looking to get their name out there, and may give you your printer!
MARTIN, R. r., BOWDEN, N. n., & MERRILL, C. c. (2014). 3D Printing. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 73(8), 30-35.
Moorefield-Lang, H. h. (2014). 3-D Printing in Your Libraries and Classrooms. Knowledge Quest, 43(1), 70-72.
SUTTON, K., GRUBBS, M. E., & ERNST, J. (2014). designing under constraints: CELL PHONE CASE DESIGN CHALLENGE. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 74(2), 12.