Thinking About Buying a 3D Printer for your Classroom?

Are you thinking about buying a 3D printer for your school or classroom?  Before you buy something that could turn into a very expensive paperweight, I recommend you consider these factors.

How is a 3D printer going to enhance your curriculum?  Are you going to buy it first and explore the possibilities, or do you already have ideas for utilizing it with students to benefit their learning?  If you would give the second answer, keep reading.  If it’s the first, you need to do more research.  If the sole purpose of the printer will be to perform as a 21st century copy machine operated only by the teacher, then you will be doing your students an injustice, as the cost would definitely outweigh the benefits.  The only reason to buy a 3d printer for your classroom is so that students can learn and create.

Once you decide that this printer will benefit student learning and you have concrete ideas for curriculum integration, then you need to think about some down-to-earth questions like these:

  1. What will my district support?  This is a complex question.  You need to find out from the manufacturer if there is software that must be downloaded.  If so, will your district allow downloads and updates?  If the printer is managed through “the cloud” instead, will the website be available to you or is it restricted?  If you have problems with your printer, will there be technical support through your district?
  2. How much can you afford to spend to purchase and maintain the printer?  The initial cost needs to be considered, of course.  But what about the cost of filament for the printer and replacing parts that aren’t under warranty?  Who will provide the money for this?
  3. Speaking of replacing parts, have you researched the customer reviews and the support portion of the manufacturer’s website?  Sometimes the support forums are only accessible to people who have purchased the printer, but you can often find outside opinions on the reliability of the machine through a simple Google search.
  4. Will your students be able to access design software, such as Tinkercad, to create for the 3D printer?  Do the students need permission to use it?  (If they are under 13, most cloud-based design programs require parental consent.)
  5. Where will the printer be located?  Does it need to be somewhat portable so several different teachers can bring it to their classroom for use, or will it have a central location like the school library?  This can help you determine the size of the printer.  Also, consider printer storage when over school holidays and long breaks.
  6. How will you determine what gets printed?  Will students be charged based on the amount of filament used?  Will there be criteria for acceptable prints, such as size, print time, and subject matter?

These additional links may be helpful as you search for the ideal printer for your situation.  Keep in mind that new 3D printers are coming on the market at a fast pace, so it’s important to check the dates on reviews and comparisons for the most up-to-date information.

In tomorrow’s post, I will give you some ideas for curriculum integration with 3d printing.  My colleague, Angelique Lackey, and I will be presenting on one curriculum idea, City X, at TCEA 2016 in Austin on February 4th.

"RepRap v2 Mendel" by RepRap Project (http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome) - Open-source RepRap Project (http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome). Licensed under GFDL via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RepRap_v2_Mendel.jpg#/media/File:RepRap_v2_Mendel.jpg
“RepRap v2 Mendel” by RepRap Project (http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome) – Open-source RepRap Project (http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome). Licensed under GFDL via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RepRap_v2_Mendel.jpg#/media/File:RepRap_v2_Mendel.jpg
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