Teachers are getting creative in the classroom by using 3D printing to help build critical thinking skills and conceptualize theories by collaborating and engineering models, parts, tools, and other creations that give students a hands-on learning experience like no other. Teachers find that these machines self motivate the students, peeking their curiosity and inciting interest into math, science, civics, and social studies lessons. But how do you get a 3D printer into the classroom, what can you do with it once it’s there, and what about ongoing costs such as filament?
Karen Winsper, a fourth grade teacher at Nathaniel Worden Elementary School in Boston saw the potential of 3D printing in the classroom as a way to integrate technology with creative problem solving skills. But getting these expensive machines in the classroom was another story. Karen Winsper used some creative thinking of her own to help fund a 3D printer for her classroom. With some research online, Karen found on Twitter that Makerbot was trying to get a 3D printer in every school across America. She then created a proposal through Donors Choose (donorschoose.org) and within a week, her dream of having a 3D printer for the classroom was fully funded by the MakerBot Company. Some other printer manufacturers such as Stratasys are also on a similar mission to get 3D printers in schools and have set up grant writing help.
For Karen’s first lesson with the printer, she developed a 3D Design challenge assignment in which the students had to create a functioning object that they could use in their everyday lives, having to scale measurements, rescale, and even change geometric structures in order to achieve success. The students’ ideas ranged from simple iPod cases and pencil holders to extension cord organizers and note card stands.
Some other schools have paired 3D printing with the popular game Minecraft to help students conceptualize and integrate ideas, measurements, and equations with common math standards before printing out scaled replica models of their Minecraft designs. Minecraft used in conjunction with 3D printers will reinforce math concepts as the students are able to visualize and handle the scale replicas by using mathematical equations and problem solving to build successful standing structures. Imagine getting to build a dream house as a school assignment with Minecraft, taking measurements along the way to figure out the surface areas, volumes, and amount of material needed and then printing a small scaled model of the house you created to show off.
Many other schools, that have already integrated 3D printing into their curriculum, recently participated in Makerbot’s Student Math Manipulatives challenge. In this challenge, students were asked to come up with and print new items to be used as math manipulatives in class. The students in this challenge responded with (seesaw) balancing scales, rotating number blocks, mini parabolas, math gears, and other creative counters or computing devices to sit on their desks. Many of these designs the students came up with are now on sites like Thingiverse, where their designs can be downloaded, printed, shared, and used as math manipulatives by anyone.
3D printing allows educators and students to explore authentic replicas of objects and parts that may not be readily available to students or educators such as human and animal anatomies, toxic materials, artifacts, and other rare items that are not available to interact with in a classroom. A fifth or sixth grade lesson on King Tut can come to life with a replica bust of the young king in the classroom adorned with replica printouts of some of his most prized treasures like his pectoral jewelry. This way the students can actually see the extravagance first hand and make connections that are not viable through a textbook.
Another educational use for the 3D printers in schools applies to medical students. At some University medical centers, 3D printing is being used to create assistive implants for their patients. First the medical students will take a CAT Scan of the area to be operated on, which creates a 3D rendering of the patient’s anatomy. Next, using the scanned image of the patient’s anatomy, the students will then draft the proper sized braces, screws, and other assistive implants needed on the structure. Finally, the students can print the personalized, fitted implants that will help reduce rejection, swelling, and other complications due to improperly sized implants during surgery.
At the American Museum of Natural History students got to use a 3D printer to reconstruct a replica of a Dinosaur skeleton through a program called Capturing Dinosaurs. First the students got to learn about the fossils, how to take care of them, document them, prep them, and scan them into the computer to form 3D renderings of the bones, just like the paleontologists that work at the museum. Next they had to research and analyze the bones to determine which dinosaur they belong to. And finally, the students got to print (using digital fabrication) smaller replica models of the studied bones to piece them together, creating skeletons of the dinosaur they got to study at the museum.
Other museums and educational groups offer similar programs or free libraries containing 3D images (to scale) of their fossils, artworks, relics, mummified remains, sculptures, statues, and other significant historical artifacts for students and teachers to print out and use with their lessons. Some of these sources include The British Museum, Africanfossils.org, Smithsonian X3D, YouMagine.com, and the previously mentioned Thingiverse.
One of the most successful integrations of the 3D printers into the classroom comes from Dewitt High School in Michigan. Teacher Brian Bryar designed a research and development lab class that uses Inquiry and Research-based classroom strategies to fuel student interest and engagement in science, taking his students to a whole new level in the science world. The class allows students to “pick their own destiny,” as Mr. Bryar puts it, meaning that “the students are free to use the science lab to research what they want, develop what they want, and be as successful as they want.” This year several of the students in the class took to shredding down old unused tech machines in order to build real working 3D printers. They didn’t stop there either. The group is now using their built 3D printers to improve on the designs and create more 3D printers that will be more efficient, accurate, and durable then the printers on the market today. Another group in the class has taken to the chemistry side of things synthesizing a super strong plastic by stressing the bromine in a carbon structure so that the 3D printer can extrude a stronger plastic substance. These breakthroughs in science and technology will not only give them a most valued learning experience, their work at school is actually having a true impact in the world of science. Students at DeWitt High School in Michigan have definitely taken 3D printing to the next level.
But how much is it going to cost to print out the students designs and what types of filament (or material used to print with) should be used? Inkgrabber.com has PLA and ABS Plastic spools at affordable prices and with an assortment of colors. Inkgrabber.com also has special pricing for schools and academic centers so the creativity never stops. PLA is an all natural, biodegradable plastic made from corn and is 100% safe to use with students. PLA is naturally transparent and has a soft malleable texture. ABS plastic should be used in a more ventilated area as this substance can emit low toxins (but not enough to cause harm) when melted down. ABS plastic is very common in households and offices for its durability. In fact LEGOs are made of ABS plastic. Some newer 3D printer models that include a carbon air filter will negate any traces of toxicity from the printing process.