Making thoughts a reality, 3D printing

The other day, I received an e-mail from my husband.  E-mail seems to be our main form of communication these days.  This particular e-mail was different from our typical conversations which revolve around our children’s schedules.  In the e-mail, my husband suggested we buy a 3D printer for our children.  I knew immediately that he had not researched the costs involved in purchasing the printer and ink.  Although it is not in our budget to purchase a 3D printer, it did inspire me to read about the benefits of this hefty investment for children.  But first, what is a 3D printer?  A 3D printer allows you to build an idea as an image and then print it as a 3D object.  I have never done it, but my daughter and son created plastic animals while we were vacationing in Chicago.  Pretty cool!

Typically I would continue this blog entry with a story about one of the instructors I work with, however, I am deviating from this because I do not know any instructors who have access to a 3D printer.

In my search for information on 3D printers in education, I came across 3D Printing Systems’ site.  This site is trying to sell a product, however, I found some of the information to be very interesting.  3D printers are more than just cool, they are educational.  I perked up at this comment, “3D printing gives students the unlimited ability to design, test and engineer with hands on exposure to additive manufacturing and gives them an advantage at the dawn of the next revolution in digital manufacturing. Nearly every subject has a potential engagement.”  Think, teachers of multiple different disciplines could build an ongoing project with students around this one piece of equipment.  Students may have to build different parts to a car or to a human body or to a house or… The possibilities are endless.  They would have to use critical thinking skills, math, engineering, biology (when building a body) and more.  I think students would love this and would be so engaged that it wouldn’t feel like work to them.

The Educational and Mobile Learning site lists these benefits:

  • It provides teachers with 3 dimensional visual aids that they can use in their classroom particularly in illustrating a hard to grasp concept
  • 3D printers make it easy for teachers to seize the interest of their students compared to just showing the pictorial representations of objects.
  • It enhances hands-on learning and learning by doing. Using this prototyping  technology, students will be able to produce realistic 3 dimensional mini-models . ( great for engineering, architecture, and multi-media arts students ).
  • It provides more room for interactive class activities. In biology, for instance, teachers can create a 3D model of the human heart, head. skeleten…etc to teach students about the human body.

It is hard to find a down side to using these in the classroom.  On the TechRebulic Trudi Lawless shares her experiences with 3D printers in the classroom.  She is a huge fan, her students love it but she did point out two drawbacks.  The first drawback is the speed. 3D printers are slow, especially if you are teaching in a classroom full of young minds.  The second concern was my first concern when I received the e-mail from my husband, the cost.  The printer itself carries a hefty price tag, but the ongoing cost of the ink needs to be taken into consideration too.

How are you using a 3D printer in your classroom?  Please share your experiences with us.  For those who are looking to add a 3D printer to the classroom, or for those parents who want to advocate for it, what suggestions do you have for funding?

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