3D printing: The future of learning is here now

In today’s ever-changing educational environments, 3D printing is becoming highly useful in STEM/STEAM curriculums. Yet, if you find yourself wondering—how could this ever work in my classroom? You’re not alone. In fact, recent studies show that 58% of today’s educators already have innovative technology like 3D printers available at their disposal, but don’t put them to use. There’s many reasons for this, but if you fall somewhere in this category and want to learn more about 3D printing, read on as we take a quick dive into how these innovative machines are changing the landscape of learning (and blowing some minds along the way).

Students watch a Robo 3D printer in action.

So, what exactly is 3D printing? Let’s start with the basics …

What is 3D printing?

According to Robo, a leading 3D printer manufacturer based in San Diego, 3D printing is a computer-controlled process that creates three-dimensional objects using layers of materials called filaments. The process can be accomplished by designing your own creation using computer-aided design (CAD) software (like Tinkercad) and a 3D scanner, or it can also be done with a digital camera and software that takes data from a photograph to create measurements for a 3D model. 

3D printing is accomplished by designing your own creation using computer-aided design (CAD) software (like Tinkercad) and a 3D scanner.

Sounds simple, right? Well, not exactly … Once the CAD model is saved, the file is then processed by “slicer” software which converts the model into thin layers and produces a file with coded instructions tailored to a specific 3D printer. From there the 3D printer interprets the code and enables the creation of physical 3D objects using a series of layers (made of filaments) to form the completed 3D object. 

Filament is used in 3D printer to complete the final project.

And, now that all that technical jargon is out of the way …

How is 3D printing useful in the classroom? 

The answer to this question is both simple and complicated all at the same time. Why? Because the benefits of using 3D printing in the classroom really are endless. 

“Think of 3D printers as a tool—that’s what the machines are, they’re tools that do many different things. The idea of 3D printing started out with large corporations making prototypes, but now we’ve seen the major benefits through the reviews from our teachers that 3D printing enhances learning through the ability to bring a subject to life in new and exciting ways.”

Braydon Moreno, Robo Co-Founder

According to a recent article published in EdTech Magazine, 3D printing projects in schools go far beyond the subjects of math and science alone. By utilizing 3D printing across a curriculum, students are able to bring educational concepts to life while building practical skills—such as problem solving and creative thinking. 

The founders of Robo believe 3D printing in education not only helps students prepare for future STEM/STEAM careers, but it also teaches the value of building things using a hands-on approach. In turn, this inspires students to be more inventive and better prepared to solve real-world problems.

Problem-solving in the classroom with 3D printing

A STEM class at Harlan Middle School in Athens, PA, came up with the challenge of “making the world a better place.” With this in mind, an 8th grade student recognized the need for a new holder for the school’s badminton net. Using her school’s 3D printer, the student designed an effective holder that can be replicated if more replacements are needed in the future.

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Persevering through multiple failed attempts, students from Murtaugh School District in Idaho used a 3D printer to create a solar-powered motion-sensing alarm designed to keep elk and deer out of fields. Dubbing the project the “Theia Motion Sensor,” the class completed their project in 18 weeks. Since it’s been put to use by a local rancher, the alarm has been effective in keeping unwanted animals out of crops without doing them physical harm.

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A former student of the Aiken County Career & Technology Center in South Carolina, contacted her CADD instructor and presented him with an interesting (and heartwarming) proposition. Recently adopting a puppy born without front legs, she asked the instructor if he could create a device that would enable the puppy to walk and run on his own. The instructor seized the opportunity and posed it as a challenge for his class. After much brainstorming, and studying the pooch himself, the class came up with a brilliant idea for a dog wheelchair. Using a 3D printer to create essential parts for the wheelchair, not only did the students give the puppy a better quality of life, but they also have a patent pending for their idea.

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The examples above were recently featured in EdTech Magazine

After all of this …

If you still find yourself thinking … But I’m a history teacher, how can I possibly use 3D printing in my classroom? Think of it this way—3D printing is ALL about bringing objects out of a computer and into the physical world …

If you teach history—your students can replicate historical artifacts for true-to-life exploration.

If you teach english language arts—your students can print 3D story sequence blocks to learn more about the elements of a story.

If you teach art—your students can print 3D versions of their work and become more creative than they ever imagined they could be.

If you teach chemistry—your students can print models of molecules and gain a better understanding of complex formulas.

The possibilities are endless.

If you still aren’t convinced, consider these final thoughts …

Hands-on learning approaches (like 3D printing) are fun and highly-engaging for students. In a time when employers are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill open roles in STEM/STEAM-based fields, higher engagement increases the likelihood of students exploring career opportunities they might not have considered otherwise. Plus, students who are more excited about learning TODAY, will go on to create a highly-skilled and talented workforce TOMORROW—and THAT is what successful education is all about.

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Students view a completed project from a Robo 3D printer.

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