The Future of 3D Printing in education

The revolutionary art of 3D printing has outgrown its infancy stage. What was once a fun prototype that could print toys and trinkets has since become an item that is well on its way to transform numerous industries. These printers can already create products, such as custom hearing aid parts and jet engine nozzles and the need for them is ever-growing.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Lockheed Martin and Boeing (aerospace and defense), Invisalign (dental devices), and Google (consumer electronics) are only a few of the big companies that are already using 3D printers to ramp up production.

This technology opens up whole new possibilities and many people even consider it to herald the start of a new industry revolution. The uses for 3D printers are endless and even the education system will be able to benefit from them.


The role of 3D printers in education

According to a government report, in 2012 and 2013 the Department for Education equipped 21 schools across England with 3D printers to see how it would affect the teaching of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and design subjects. While it took many teachers some time to get confident in working with this new technology, these printers ‘had a highly motivational effect on pupils and most schools reported a greater interest in STEM subjects’.
So far 3D printers are mostly used in Design and Technology classrooms.

The government’s 3D printer experiment allowed schools to explore new, innovative ways of using these printers in other subjects such as maths, physics, and biology.


Learning from the 3D printer and teaching approaches

The 3D printer is an ideal tool for team projects and cross-curricular work. For design and technology teachers, this type of work was very familiar since they’ll often give their students a design brief. The students will then get to make their own creative choices on how to best complete the project. For subjects such as maths and physics, where the primary goal is to explain concepts, the printers were used to ‘promote thinking, reasoning and understanding’.
It allowed pupils to get an insight into how these concepts can be applied and visualised.

Factors affecting success

Passionate teachers, who love the subject they’re teaching and are not afraid of innovations, had the best results with the 3D printer. They were able to use it with confidence and sought help from in-school technician support whenever necessary. A willingness to collaborate with other departments, good accessibility to the printer as well as support from the school’s senior managers also allowed for better results. This further extends to the supply of such products to schools from education support organisations such as which provides equipment for various levels of education.


Effects on pupils and learning

Being able to make shapes and components with a 3D printer that were previously impossible to make in class, made many students discover a new interest in many subjects. Even children with concentration problems were able to focus better during lessons and remain interested for longer periods of time.

According to an article on the BBC, 3D printers are already having an impact on the shape of school lessons. The so called ‘digital maker’ movement encourages young people all over the world to get more creative with new technology. One of its supporters is the 14-year old Manchester pupil Amy Mather. Last year she won the European Commission’s first European Digital Girl of the Year Award and with the help of the Fab Lab in Manchester, she was able to use 3D printers and laser cutters to finish her GCSE product design coursework.

Amy is just one of many children showing a growing interest in new technologies and the sheer endless opportunities they provide. In this tech-age, it’s very important to teach our children about new technologies so that they will be well prepared for the future world.

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