A few weeks ago, a British school tweeted a photograph of three untouched 3D printers languishing in a cupboard. During my interaction with the staff, they said that while students were desperate to use them, the teachers had no idea where to begin.
Although an increasing number of schools and other educational institutions are investing in 3D printers, this revolutionary technology is yet to be valued across the board.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
A combination of factors are at play: funding is one of the main culprits and not yet recognising the full potential of Additive Manufacturing is another. The problem is also an echo of the way we tentatively approached computers when they first arrived in our schools. Staff take one look at the complex network of wires and considering there is no widespread support or training in place, many of them have no choice but to keep the key in the lock for now.
Despite the initial cost of a 3D printer, there is a wealth of online, open-source tools that create a fantastic platform for online collaboration between students and teachers, once the purchase has been made. From creating a 2D design to nursing this design to fruition as a 3D object, the on-going pedagogy of tactile learning can be extremely effective in building confidence in children.
So what if we considered giving pupils a more collaborative role in carrying this immense learning curve forward?
When discussing the issue with my former colleague, the founder of a 3D printing company, she said that children should be able to adopt a more active role in showing teachers how to work 3D printers. At the moment, all of the trust and power is presided over by teachers, who are then expected to filter their knowledge down to students.
If the approach was shared more between teachers and students, who are often more digitally astute to begin with, a true learning revolution could take place.
In the ‘Development of a Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland’ bit.ly/uked16dec02 children cited 3D printers as one of the main tools they would like to see in the classroom of the future. One child’s diagram also said that while most traditional classroom tools would have been replaced by technology, ‘the teacher is still human’ – so we don’t have to worry quite yet!
A series of new job titles are being created in multiple industries internationally and education must adjust to mirror these developments: from CAD engineer, to 3D fashion designer, 3D luthier or a Prosthetist that adapts his or her role to incorporate designing and fitting 3D prosthetics.
The open-source website Thingiverse.com has a wealth of lesson plans that support every subject area including STEM, art and special education. Every child with an internet connection can design and share their creation with other students throughout the world.
Of course, the practice of tactile learning has been encouraged since the dissectible frog was in fashion (except now we can more ethically download the frog from Thingiverse). While there has been some scientific debate about whether people learn in different ways, there is no doubting that children with contrasting natural aptitudes learn differently.
Say, for example, a biology class has been tasked with designing and 3D printing a dinosaur fossil.
Some learners may relish the process of designing the fossil using an online tool like Tinkercad.com. The ‘Projects’ section of Tinkercad allows students to simultaneously collaborate on their projects, while giving the teacher the opportunity to oversee developments.
Another design tool that is suitable for all ages, 3dslash.net, offers a game-like platform reminiscent of Minecraft. It offers a different way of working and thinking and some pupils will prefer this technique.
Meanwhile, other learners may prefer the physical task of 3D printing parts and re-adjusting the levelling bed or the extruder when things start to go awry.
3D printing is collaborative and each child can partake in a varied set of tasks which appeal to multiple skillsets. Lesson plans can focus on having children take up alternating roles during lessons and thus allow themselves and their teacher to see what works best for them.
It cannot be under-estimated just how exciting it is for a child to watch their invention take shape, first in the online world and then as a complete product they can hold in their hands. It fosters confidence in themselves and their classmates, and in doing so opens a door for a new generation of innovators excavating unplumbed possibilities in science, art and every other industry or industry sub-set we can imagine.
Another key element of collaboration of how 3D printing is creating a more interdisciplinary mode of learning. Some schools and universities are already establishing a “3D hub” where children and staff throughout the school can come to receive assistance. Now, we will be fostering co-operation among students not just within their own classrooms but across several subjects simultaneously.
While teachers are instrumental in shaping and facilitating the curriculum process, it is our children that orchestrate the ultimate results. Building a child’s confidence is surely the most essential tool we can equip them with, as it is only once they have confidence in their ability to create that will we see their talents demonstrated in full capacity.
For this reason, we should strive to convince our policy makers of the value of investing in 3D printing. Printers are not inexpensive, so once the purchase has been made why not have a more widespread plan that follows the project through from start to finish? Once we do this, we will have fully embraced the collaborative pedagogy of 3D printing that offers our children the types of opportunities and careers that perhaps we can only dream of, but that they can make a reality.
@coyle_kat has taught in primary schools in multiple European countries, has academically studied Digital Humanities and written about and 3D printed many objects. She has become increasingly aware of just how monumentally education and business will be changed by the 3D printing revolution.
Image source: By fdecomite on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)
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