May 16, 2014

How (And Why) To Get Started With 3D Printing In The Classroom – Guest post from ETT Summit Presenter, Martha Slack

This post first appeared on Edudemic.

This past week, I introduced 3D printing into my classroom. Next week, we will receive 3D pens from Dim3printing, an Austin-based 3D printing distributor. This technology has brought about an excitement for learning I have never experienced in my classroom before.

1. Revolutionize Learning

3D printing will revolutionize learning because it lends itself to low-risk, low-cost innovation. Since ideas can materialize within minutes, students can see their work as tangible products. When students have access to 3D printing, abstract concepts in science and mathematics have the potential to be transformed into concrete (plastic) visuals. Students will begin to see objects differently — “That’s cool! I want to buy that.” becomes “That’s cool, but I can design that better.” Students will be transformed from passive consumers of goods to actively-engaged inventors who are in control of their own learning. 3D printing also allows students to interact with a global network of creators. Designers around the world upload files to be shared with other printing enthusiasts, and students will be able to contribute to this exchange.

2. Students want hands-on applicable technology

3D printing has opened the door to serious conversations about education. My students have incredible ideas! As we discussed the possibilities for printing in my classroom, they began to consider how this might apply to their education. My students expressed a desire to learn math as it applies to computer programing, building websites, coding and designing, in addition to creating apps for smartphones and programing robots. They showed interest in real-life applications for investing, banking, loans, and the financial aspects of business, such as credit, buying a house, and financial responsibility. They wish to create innovative and inventive products for interior design, entrepreneurship, and graphic design. We also discussed alternative learning environments, the need for collaboration, and project-based learning. Students agreed that they want their learning to be applicable, specialized and meaningful.

3. The Possibilities ARE Endless

This week, I have students designing blueprints of architectural sculptures to be constructed using 3D pens. Watching YouTube tutorials to learn Google Sketchup and CADD, students are designing products for a department fundraiser. They are designing custom jewelry, smartphone cases, and simple parts for electronics. Information sharing and collaboration are running rampant in the art room!

3D printing is relatively new to my classroom, but we have big plans for the future on our campus. Students can apply the use of 3D printing to everything from solving algebraic equations to designing custom products. Science classes can download DNA construction sets, frogs for dissection, and manipulatives for molecules. Business classes can design and print prototypes. Interior design and architectural classes can print models of interior and exterior spaces. Art teachers can print clay tools, paint palettes, art history visuals and human models for figure drawing. Thus, teachers can have easy access to instructional tools for each lesson. The ideas and options are, indeed, endless.

4. Focus on the Process: Learn together, fail together, try again together

Diving head-first into a new technology such as 3D printing can be terrifying.  Students often believe teachers have all the answers, and teachers may have a difficult time admitting that we do not. The first step in conquering this uncharted territory is to admit to our students that we do not know everything. Transforming our classrooms into collaborative learning environments in which we are equal learners in the process can be unnerving as it requires us to relinquish control. Throughout the 3D printing process I have already failed on multiple occasions. The beauty of failure with 3D printing is that it is not permanent and it is simple to adjust the process. One can easily learn from the mistake, try again, and easily reprint a new product. Students are enabled to view failure as a simple obstacle with 3D printing.

Tips for printing when you know nothing about printing.

  • Create a partnership with a local 3D printing company. Dim3printing agreed to partner with my students and have been a valuable resource in this adventure.
  • 3D printers use STL files which can be found all over the internet. is a very useful example of a site from which to download files and see the possibilities for your printer.
  • Search YouTube for tutorials.
  • Tap into your students as a resource. Let them teach each other about 3D modeling software and have them do the research.
  • If you want to begin 3D printing but are short on resources, start with 3D pens. Pens are affordable and use the same technology.
  • I found my XYZ Printer on Amazon. It is affordable and a great printer for a beginner.

Martha Slack (@slackmartha) will be presenting 3D Printing in Your Classroom at the July 28-30 EdTechTeacher Summit in Chicago.