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3D Printing in Education

3D printing is becoming an important matter for education. The idea to implement this novel technique is allowing classroom students to develop new engineering talents while leveraging their overall knowledge, creativity, and design.

According to the magazine “EdTech”, 3D printing technology is returning to the spotlight as K–12 educators are using this technology to teach various skills.

Why is it Important to Teach 3D Printing?

Several universities and institutions are currently conducting studies about the importance of practicing 3D printing in academic programs. In most cases, these studies have shown that 3D lessons are uniquely engaging students to learn advanced concepts and skills.

3D printing is considered to introduce a new opportunity to practice different techniques in diverse educational settings. 3D printing applications provide essential training for careers on which technology is related, taking into consideration that many academic school programs around the world are placing an important contribution on everything related to the digital field. As 3D printing is taking more and more important, the future of additive manufacturing is enlightening, therefore having students involved will prepare them for the future in a world where advanced technologies will have a profound social and financial effect.

In an article published by RobotLab, Elvira Rach, head of education at iGo3D GmbH, commented: “Digitalization and technology are changing everything, especially in schools, the growing digitization is a big issue and the field of 3D printing is especially paying attention. Education must be involved to prepare students for the future, but these changes are so profound that it is not enough to just place an iPad in the classroom. 3D printing can completely change the way students learn and the physical tangibility of the content, learning in a special way.”

Bring Ideas to Life with 3D Printing

3D printing is a way for students to bring ideas to life. 3D printing is a technique that begins with a digital model called CAD (Computer Aiding Design) for the creation of a tri-dimensional object and combines it with a creative process to bring an object into the real world. Also, students can have a real look and feel of their creations being able to examine, analyze, and understand their creations. By trying different colors, materials, and textures their physical abilities are being developed. There are diverse educational areas that include 3D printing into their academic programs, to name a few: Engineering, History, Visual Design, Arts, Geography, Chemistry, Robotics, Environmental Science, and even Mathematics.

3D Printing is Interesting

3D printing creates enthusiasm and passion among students. The student does not have to wonder anymore how the object that was imagined on his mind will look like. Having the opportunity to experience first-hand the model and invention process opens the opportunity for these individuals to test and develop further their attention to detail and problem-solving skills as they will be attentive to learn what areas of improvement may occur. Furthermore, the fact that 3D printing adds value by generating endless designs brings a whole lot of enthusiasm as well.

3D printing gives students the opportunity of being more interactive and participants of the subject as opposed to career modules that are more conventional and need to be taught with a different classroom approach. The interaction between the student and the educator and, the amongst classmates is as well encouraged. They get excited to see the creations of others and learn much more about this process; as they may share how they did it, someone might have a different approach in the implementation of this technique.

3D Printing is a Whole Experimental Phase

3D printers expose students to different experiments and show them that if the object is not perfect on its first try, they can always do it again which creates a whole phase of encouragement and learning. Students may be more aware that try an error is part of a natural process until the desired result is reached. These create students more motivated, self-confident, and happy. The curve of the learning process is infinite, the more students are involved with a project, and the more they experiment the more they learn. For kids, this is very stimulating, for the younger it sparks their creativity because 3D printing is like a brush to a painter, it becomes a tool on which everyone will discover their exponential creativity.

3D Printing in Education Follows a Path of Creation

With 3D printing, students also realize that to obtain a resulting piece, there is a process involved. This is a great way for them to learn how to follow steps, so they learn to become patient and be part of the process involved. They follow a path to see how their creation is being formed, this adds value and appreciation on their efforts; and if they step into some difficulty in the process, they will learn how to solve it, this is acquiring problem-solving skills with an artistic approach, so is less likely for them to feel frustrated or uncomfortable. In sum, they are learning how to overcome difficulties which translates later into their real life.

3D Printing is Ready for the Class

Another great factor is that 3D printers for classrooms and education are more likely to be ready to use, there are many great options of desktop 3D printers and manufacturers that in addition to having a great product, including a great software and learning applications, and they are also ready to start printing.

Having 3D printing in education brings the opportunity for creativity, design, visualization, and the materialization of ideas to a touch physical point. It is expected that with the inclusion of these technologies, graphic designers, engineers, and artists will have at some point in their career education the impact of 3D printing and prepare them for the future economy that is shaping now.

How can Schools Teach 3D Printing?

The implementation of 3D printing is a process that involves not only the students but also the teachers. Educators must be well trained on 3D printing for them to translate knowledge to their apprentices.
3D printing manufacturers have developed specific programs to help in 3D printing for education and provide useful resources for teachers. A professor who is looking to obtain 3D printers or to teach this process may need to get a first-hand experience on this. Several institutions specifically create academic resources for 3D printing education and are available online.

As an outline of general recommendations to teach 3D printing, it is advised that as a first step, set up a plan of action, set goals and objectives of what is aimed to achieve with the class.

Then thinking about the environment, what will be needed to teach the class. What type of 3D printer, how many of these would you need? what is the best CAD software option? what type of materials to acquire, how many students? As a quick tip, there is CAD software specifically designed for kids, and others for young students as well.

The next step may be looking for a 3D printer. There are a lot of different options for 3D printers that are suitable for educational purposes. Choosing an affordable, and user-friendly 3D printer is important. Another aspect is that if the company that manufactures these 3D printers offers a demo of their 3D printers, make sure to sign up for one as it will provide a real experience on how to use this machine and benefit from technology experts to explain its capabilities.


How Does 3D Printing Help School Projects?

3D printing has a lot of potential applications. Students worldwide are beginning to unveil a new era of technology, or as some called the “New Industrial Revolution”. In an article published by CNBC; the concept named “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is introduced by Davos. This term refers to how a combination of technologies is changing the way we live, work, and interact. Students will be involved soon in technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things, robotics, facial recognition, and more disciplines involving a new digital era including 3D printing.

Students around the world are participating in several science projects using 3D printing for new creations and designs. In an article published by Tech4goodawards.com Amy Mather, a student in Manchester UK won the European Digital Girl of the Year 2013 and has been recognized by the European Commission with a project using coding and 3D printing. The BBC also released the news on this article and mentions that 3D printing has big plans to be part of the UK and the United States education programs.

In this same article, Amy mentions that the key inspiration for her work is a “digital maker” movement, to encourage young people to be creative with technology. This note also mentions for these movements have the support from “Fab Lab” in Manchester, this is a fabrication laboratory where digital ideas are turned into products and prototypes. This was the first of nine in the UK, and they are also part of a project in the United States growing from a university course, “How To Make (Almost) Anything” created by Professor Neil Gershenfeld in Massachusetts.

Further on this reading, Pieter Scholtz and Gerard de Clercq, they are 15-year-old students at Menlopark High School in South Africa, built their 3D printer with a mobile app, and refer to recycle Coca Cola soft drink bottles to make 3D printing filaments.

In addition to these cases, 3D printing is effectively participating in the development of school program applications. A scholar lesson guide for Lafayette High School created by Monica Schauffler and Amy Wallisch shows different uses of how 3D printing can help school projects having an impact in diverse areas.

To name a few references here is a list that provides great examples of how 3D printing is helping to create school projects.

  • Biology students can study cross-sections of hearts, 3D models of DNA, biological systems, and organs.
  • Chemistry students can print out complex molecules to study.
  • Engineering students can print a modified part or robot parts.
  • Geography students can print out topography, maps, population, or specific demographics of an area.
  • Graphic Design students can create prototypes or product designs.
  • Food Technology students can design molds for ices and gelatins and cookie-cutter templates.
  • History students can print artifacts for closer examination.
  • Architectural students can print new or existing designs.
  • Design and engineering students can make prototypes of their creations.
  • Auto class students can print replacement or modified car parts.
  • In English classes, students can print characters, tools, and other items.
  • Art students can create sculptures, stands, frames, etc.
  • Robotics students can design parts of custom devices.

3D printing not only allows a close collaboration among students and the development of speaking skills, this technology also enhances the way on which projects are presented permitting the presentation of visually designed models to accelerate the learning process.


Common Curriculum of 3D Printing in Academic Programs

In an article published by EdTech Magazine, Technology Professional Development Specialist Rebecca Buckhoff at Moreno Valley Unified School District in Southern California has led a movement in her district to increase access and equity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) by developing a successful program for 3D printing in elementary schools.

In this section, she speaks about her experience when she was first introduced to 3D printing and four steps to creating a strong 3D printing program. She mentions how 3D printing has limitless applications and how this technology can be compared to other academic fields such as medicine, fashion, construction, manufacturing, aeronautics, culinary arts, and more.

The following excerpt intends to present a simplified view of her entire approach on how to create a successful 3D printing educational program.

She mentions as the first step to create a unique vision using education standards, such as ISTE Standards for Students, specifically the standard for Innovative Designer and Computational Thinker. Then implementing a vision and have the action flow from that ideology. Then, after a vision is established, a goal to achieve that vision must be written with outlined and clear steps providing direction to the teachers who are implementing the program.

The next step is to congregate a team of teachers who are enthusiastic about technology to offer them training and support. “In my district, I started with a cohort of teachers who were willing to learn and serve as lead teachers at their schools” – “We began with initial training on the basics of 3D printing, followed by some lesson ideas”. She said. Then after the initial training is conducted, the teachers meet again to create the curriculum and share best practices.

The third step of her approach is to start with small 3D printing programs and then allow the program to grow and then after, work any problems that may arise having a minimal impact allowing flexibility and adjustments along the way. As the program progresses, more experiences are gained with it. Documentations with photos, videos, and testimonials can be shared to create excitement for this to grow at a major scale. Regarding this, as an example, she mentions how placing a 3D printer in a public place encourages curiosity by allowing students and teachers to ask questions.

The final step is developing a project management system for 3D printing, once projects are being designed and materials are set, designing a system helps to manage students designs. She recommends Google Classrooms for this development and encourages students to get a shareable link of their design from Thinkercad or any other CAD program. Then choose a cloud-based solution and get ready to set up times to print student projects and build a professional social network.


Examples of 3D Printing in Education

As 3D printing becomes more inclusive in education, studies indicate more case applications emerging from different institutions around the world. Here are a few examples of how 3D printing is contributing to schooling.

The Scuola di Alta Formazione (SAF) of the Instituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro (ISCR) is utilizing 3D printing for the restoration of masterpieces of the Italian heritage. Teachers at the institute decided to use 3D scanning and 3D printing with excellent results for their restoration projects. Read here 3D printing in the restoration of Italian classical art.

In Russia, the government is progressing a remarkable focus on the acceleration and development of digital technologies. A state program called “Digital Economy of the Russian Federation” launched in 2017 which includes multiple robotics and 3D printing initiatives to help refine and automate Russian Industrial. Their goal is to match the trend as benchmarked by the US, Asia, and the rest of Europe. In St. Petersburg, Lift 3.0 is an engineering center founded on the idea that students and recent graduates of technical universities assist to meet the demands for complex technical developments to create products.

Another interesting story is from FilRight, a company that specializes in the research and development of 3D printing filaments and testing of printers. They were asked to outfit four schools of the Pieter Zandt School Community in the Netherlands with 3D printers. FilRight share their experience of how students learned how to make design and 3D printings using large-format 3D printers.

John Gardner is a student at Foothill High School in Tustin, CA, he has a great passion for engineering and technology and shares a great story. After learning about 3D printing, he began to develop prototypes for an electric skateboard, custom-fit prosthetic limbs, and more. “3D printing is definitely going to be in my future, just because it’s most likely the future of where we’re going, and there’s so much that can be done with it,” he said.

In this same institution, Professor Jeff Farr is also at the forefront of 3D printing, CAD, and manufacturing, integrating additive manufacturing systems into the education curriculum at Foothill High School in Tustin, CA. Jeff is a teacher with 26 years’ experience in engineering and technology education. In this story, he inspired the next generation of engineers to build without limitations and create anything they can dream up. In this interview, he said, “I wanted kids to physically be able to touch what it is that they dream on their mind, so they can dream it up, they can put it in a 3D model in a computer-aided drafting system, and then I wanted them to take it out of the computer and make it physical so they can actually touch it ”. He followed by sharing his reasons why he has included 3D printing in their academic program. 

EdTech Magazine also mentions how various institutions are using some applications of 3D printing in education with a special focus in science, technology, engineering, and math classes. At Harlan Rowe Middle School in Athens, PA., eighth-grader Braelynn Wood took her STEM class challenge to “make the world a better place” by designing and 3D printing a new holder for the school’s badminton net.


How to Choose a 3D Printer for Schools?

Choosing 3D printing equipment for an educational institution is no easy task, but fortunately, manufacturers are providing more options and resources diversifying their products for different specific uses. When it comes to choosing the best 3D printer for school projects, here are a few quick ideas that might help to select the right equipment for any organization. Also, read further for more specific points that can assist as well.

Before choosing a 3D printer, try to answer these questions.

  • What plans, projects, or programs will be performed with the 3D printer?
  • How many 3D printing models will be needed for the purpose?
  • What is the available space that is assigned for the equipment?
  • How many 3D printers are needed?

Starting point – Look for an Entire Ecosystem Solution

When starting the journey of finding the best 3D printer for any educational needs, one smart recommendation is to look for a manufacturer that can offer a complete ecosystem solution, and here is why.

A 3D printing ecosystem is a complete solution, every part of it plays an important role when adopting 3D printing for various purposes. The components of an ecosystem provide all the solutions needed to have a successful 3D printing environment. From the right 3D printer, CAD software, a variation of filaments, and materials to work with, a cloud-base program to even including useful academic resources to support and magnify educational knowledge.

Choose a User-Friendly, Affordable and Reliable 3D Printer

Even though the list of 3D printers may become infinite with all the manufacturers out there, the most recommendable equipment for essential schooling purposes is a desktop 3D printer. These machines are affordable, reliable, and easy-to-use. Desktop 3D printers are more suitable for those who are looking for advanced capabilities for engineering, the school uses, and small batch production. So, these printers are a perfect fit for school and education.

These types of printers are also durable and easy to maintain but come with high-quality standards. These 3D printers are also fast-operating machines and are easy to move around for uncomplicated portable capabilities. They also provide high-resolution 3D printing models with accuracy and reliability, can operate remotely, and use a diverse type of materials to experiment with. Some of these 3D printers also use a video-assisted calibration system to make sure that everything is being printed properly, which eliminates bad models and material waste.

Some of these smart machines come packed with important features that can help to minimize the worries related to technical problems. For instance, look for 3D printers that come with safety features to immediately pause the printer and keep users safe. Flexible build plates are also important as they allow to easily remove prints and is compatible with a variety of filaments. The most modern printers are compatible with a wide variety of materials and filaments and come with an easy-to-use interface with touch screen, integrated setting controls, and screen assistance programs. In addition to this, some 3D printers come with an integrated power source to avoid running into any trouble if the power goes off while printing. Last, try choosing a 3D printing that comes with HEPA filtration as they are environmentally friendly.


3D Printing Software – Slicing Software

3D printing is required to work with CAD (Computer-Aided Program) software also called slicing software. This is where the design is built and acts as the main channel to translate the idea into the physical world, the software prepares the files for printing.

Many software applications can be downloadable for free and that also has an intuitive user interface. There are also singular software applications that are specifically designed for kids and young students.

A Cloud-Based Program

This is a useful feature to have to maximize project efficiencies, since working with a great number of school students may generate digital files for all their ideas, having a cloud-based centralized project management platform optimizes the usage, control, and performance of entire team production. Some of these cloud-based programs can be even controlled remotely using a mobile app and allow wireless printing capabilities.

3D Printing Filaments and Materials

Another important part when choosing a 3D printer for a school is that this equipment can work with diverse materials. Students like to experiment with different colors and textures and teachers may identify what works best for their projects. Some filaments are made with materials that are biodegradable plastic and environmentally friendly.

3D Printing Academic Resources

There are manufacturers of 3D printers that come with access to free academic resources. These resources show where 3D models, lesson plans, training tools, and specialization literature are free of access at any time from anywhere.

The benefits of 3D printing in school are vast, and even the challenges of implementing this technology at an academic level may seem difficult, 3D printing presents an opportunity of collaboration, learning, and strengthening academic and workforce skills. Now teachers, schools, and institutions are becoming more prepared to help students prepare for the big challenges of tomorrow.



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