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How to use 3D printers in the classroom

Are you yet to use 3D printers in your lessons? Here are some examples of how to use this brilliant technology to reach a high level of student engagement

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3D printers are receiving a lot of interest in the educational space, and are frequently cited as a new catalyst for learning. Certainly, this revolutionary technology is helping teachers to reach a level of student engagement that is almost impossible to recreate from a textbook.

But its not just about engagement. In fact, a report from the Department for Education (DfE) found that 3D printing in schools offers a number of compelling benefits for teachers and students.

3D printers have significant potential as a teaching resource and can have a positive impact on pupil engagement and learning
3D printers in schools: uses in the curriculum, DfE

The benefits of using 3D printers in the classroom

3D printers are helping to inspire a new generation of STEM learners by combining problem-solving skills with creativity and innovation. But this nifty tech also has the potential to support pedagogy across all disciplines.

Make learning active

Pupils learn best through interaction and application. By doing rather than by reading a book or listening to a lecture. As such, 3D printers are an excellent way to deploy experiential learning and give pupils more hands-on experiences. With 3D printers, teachers can create activities that take academic concepts from the theoretical to the practical. For example, in biology lessons, students could create an anatomical heart. Such active learning also ensures that pupils retain information with greater ease.

Encourage real-world understanding

3D printers help to put learning into context, so students see the value of lessons in the form of real-world problem-solving. For example, one trainee teacher has developed an amazing 3D bee prototype which he hopes will allow the bee population to increase.

Augment the educational process

Students can easily spot where they have made mistakes, discuss these errors with the class, learn from these mistakes, and rectify them.

Fire imaginations

3D printers and design software inspires creativity and ignites young imaginations. In fact, the possibilities of what students can create through 3D printing are infinite; and it’s remarkable how creative children can be when empowered with the ability to turn their 3D designs into real physical objects!

Instil spatial intelligence

Spatial intelligence involves analysing and interpreting the size, shape, movement and relationships between objects; it’s the ability to draw correct conclusions from observing three-dimensional environments. According to studies, the use of 3D printers in lessons enhances a student’s spatial intelligence, with such intelligence an important predictor of achievement in STEM subjects.

Boost digital engagement

3D printing is a hands-on, fun activity. So, by incorporating this technology into lessons, teachers can uncover fresh ways to keep pupils engaged; adding extra value and relevance to lessons in a way that is both mentally stimulating and enjoyable. What’s more, 3D printers are applicable across education levels; making them a natural starting point for early years digital engagement.

Help students prepare for the future

The ability to innovate in our digital world is becoming increasingly important, so encouraging pupils to explore tools that help them to think differently will prepare them for life after education. That said, it’s not about technology for technology’s sake. Global revenue for 3D-printing spending is projected to reach $35.4 billion in 2020. In response, schools should use 3D printers as a way to expose students to this soon to be widely used-tech, and get them future ready.

Boost computational thinking

Computational thinking and skills such as decomposition, pattern recognition, logical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving are becoming increasingly important. 3D printers (and other tools such as micro:bits and Raspberry Pi) are helping to make computational thinking a key part of the modern curriculum.

Create new learning materials

If your school doesn’t have access to specific learning materials, a 3D printer could help you to make them instantly!

The opportunity to realise a concept or idea quickly into a 3D product is an incredibly powerful teaching tool
David Jermy, head of DT at Settlebeck High School, Sedbergh, Cumbria

How teachers are already using 3D printers in the classroom

Integrating a 3D printer into the classroom is affordable, despite increasingly squeezed academic budgets. In fact, 3D printers often come in cheaper than laptops and computers. Nevertheless, most teachers are still reluctant to use one in their lessons.

Despite the reported benefits, while over 70% of schools have access to a 3D printer, only 9.04% of teachers use this technology frequently.
State of Technology in Education Report: 2016

Here are just some examples of how you can use 3D printers in your classroom:

  • Create interactive maps. 3D printers can be used to design and build interactive maps. These can be of real-life modern cities, maps setting out what pupils think the city of the future will look like, historical locations (e.g. a Roman settlement), or even fictional places from books students are reading.
  • Create decorations. Younger children can use 3D printing to create their own seasonal decorations.
  • Recreate real-life structures. Create models of world-famous buildings such as the Empire State Building or the Taj Mahal. You can also recreate historical ruins such as the Colosseum in all its former glory.
  • Get musical. Ask a class to design and create a new musical instrument.
  • Consider the tools for a job. For example, you could ask pupils to print out what they think an astronaut needs in space.
  • Bring back the dinosaurs. Use a 3D printer to create a sculpture of a T-Rex or other dinosaur.
  • Create a human skeleton and/or internal organs. Create anatomical models to teach pupils about the human body.
  • Build maths experiments. Design larger experiences to facilitate mathematical thinking.Here are some real-life examples of how 3D printing in being used in maths education

How are you using 3D printers in your classroom? Tell us on Twitter!

Rather than just being a cool piece of tech, 3D printing has significant educational benefits and practical applications for the next generation of engineers, architects, designers, and creatives. However, digital leaders in education must do more to ensure teachers are comfortable enough with the technology to use it successfully in the classroom.

Quick guide to boosting engagement

Pupils learn more, retain information for longer, and behave better when they’re fully engaged. Learn how higher engagement can enhance your school’s attainment in our quick guide.

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