3D printers have been hitting the headlines of late, from 3D printed guns to NASA developing printers to use in space, but how can this hot new technology be put to a positive use for the average person or family? We take a look at how 3D printers are being used in schools and why so many students will benefit from access to this inspiring technology.
It all begins with access.
Printer prices fall.
Simply put, you can’t benefit from something if you don’t have access to it and previously the high cost of 3D printers has kept most in the dark about this exciting technology. More recently, the falling cost of 3D printers has brought them to the attention (and into the homes) of the general public and has been the subject of more than one big media story. With soon to be launched printers like Pirate3D’s Buccaneer starting at $347, the affordability of putting printers in the hands of students has increased dramatically.
3D printer giveaways.
Many companies, including Stratasys, 3D systems and Pirate3D to name a few, are offering a select number of printers free to educational institutions to help spread the awareness of (and access to) this greatly beneficial technology. While this will never provide anything like universal access to printers for students, it will go some way towards helping show teachers and institutions just how students could use 3D printers to help aid and further their education.
Along with the previously mentioned 3D printer companies offering printers, there are also a limited number of government programs available to help schools bring 3D printers to their students. While such programs are currently very limited, in President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech, he made it clear that the US government was not only awake to 3D printing, but had intentions to invests heavily into its research and development. Such backing is sure to increase opportunities for schools, either through free printers and grants, or by driving the cost of 3D printers down.
No matter how cost effective 3D printers become, whether or not students get their hands on them will ultimately depend on an individual school’s ability to see the learning potential of these machines. As more and more schools use 3D printers, the ways in which they are used to teach will no doubt grow, with teachers around the world finding more and more ways for 3D printers to add real value to education. It’s looking beyond the “magic” of 3D printers and recognizing this benefit that will determine whether or not a school chooses to invest in them.
3D printers as teaching aids.
Handle without care.
How many times do young kids hear the words “look, but don’t touch”? In their most curious years we seldom trust children to handle delicate or valuable things for fear of damaging them. With 3D printers, rare, delicate and expensive artifacts can be cheaply reproduced, giving even the youngest students the opportunity to not just see, but to feel what things are like. No one is going to let young students handle a dinosaur skeleton, but a plastic 3D printed model of one? Print them out and pass them around!
Creating the once expensive models for science classes becomes simple and cheap with 3D printers. Each class can print the exact models needed for their lesson in class or even create their own to further explain a specific point. If studying the human heart in biology for example, teachers could print cross sections of the heart’s valves to give students a look inside at its inner workings. They can also be used to print large scale models of tiny insects to magnify them right in your hands.
Working engineering examples.
Nothing explains a mechanical process quite the same as seeing it in action. While the use of videos in schools has been common for a long time, finding quality footage for your specific example can be difficult and only shows students what the camera is pointing at. A 3D printed model of a building, or mechanism for example, allows the students to see it from every and any angle they want. They can study it up close, even take it apart and learn about its design and construction through practical analysis. It’s one thing to be shown a picture or video of an engine with an explanation of its workings, but nothing explains an engine better than taking one apart.
Creating as well as learning.
Along with seeing how things work, 3D printers will allow student to design and print their own engineering plans and put them to the test practically. For example, if studying bridge construction, students could design their own bridges and test how much weight each design can support. This type of hands-on design and testing process is both a valuable learning experience as well as an engaging one for students.
Nothing will be as greatly affected by 3D printers as the design and manufacturing of products. Like with engineering, product design greatly benefits from the prototyping and test phase of the design process. With 3D printers, students can cheaply, comparatively and quickly make prototypes of designs so that they can further test aesthetics, functionality and ergonomics.
While the uses of 3D printers in art class may at first seem limited, what they bring to sculpture actually makes what can be created almost limitless. Incredibly complex forms and organic shapes can be produced at the same cost as more humble creations. Things that in the past would have cost too much to even consider fabricating become cheaply produced in a matter of hours. If it can be thought, it can be made.
With the cost of 3D printing in metal falling, jewelry design is an obvious benefactor. Now students of jewelry design can focus on being designers, knowing that the cost and difficulty of manufacturing their ideas has been greatly reduced and simplified. Instead of worrying about how you are going to make your web-like, intricate bracelet, a student can simply print a prototype and focus instead on how the bracelet looks and feels when you wear it.
Our little 3D printer is all grown up.
Although 3D printers have already begun showing up in schools, just how fast 3D printing will make it into the majority of schools is unknown, but programs like Pirate3D will go a long way to putting printers in schools. For those not lucky enough to receive a free printer, the Buccaneer isn’t an expensive machine, but how much money can be invested in new technology in schools will ultimately dictate when we will see them in classrooms. One thing is looking certain – if your child is just starting school this year, they’ll graduate from high school having used, learned and benefitted from 3D printers.