Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Using 3D Printers in the Classroom

In yesterday’s post about purchasing 3d printers for schools, I maintained that these printers shouldn’t be bought for the sake of having the latest and greatest technology on your campus.  If you are going to add one to your inventory, it should be with the purpose of enhancing student learning – not merely as a tool to print school buttons or statues of your mascot.

Last summer, I wrote a guest blog post  for Free Technology for Teachers  in which  I mentioned that our campus was gifted with a 3d printer.  We were motivated to find meaningful curriculum that would make use of the printer’s abilities.  Such curriculum is difficult to find at the moment, since 3d printers have only recently become affordable enough for many schools.

If you are interested in introducing Design Thinking, try the free City X curriculum, which my colleague, Angelique Lackey, and I will be presenting at TCEA in Austin on February 4th.  While you lead students through the process of innovating to solve a problem, they learn the difficulties that must be overcome, and the satisfaction of working hard to finally produce their ideas.  In this program, students hear the story of a fictional settlement on an alien planet and learn that the residents need our help with specific problems they have encountered.  They work through the design process to create ideas that are possible solutions.

Project Ignite is a source of more curriculum integration ideas.  This site is like a Google Classroom for design thinking, allowing teachers to create classes and assign projects to students who join their classrooms with codes.  In fact, the projects can directly be assigned to Google Classroom, and students can log in to Project Ignite with their Google credentials.  The 3d printer projects are assigned through Tinkercad.

My 2nd grade students are currently using the design process to “Build a Better Lunchbox.”  They have been learning about structures and biomimicry, and using that knowledge to improve lunchbox design.  (I am planning to do a separate post on this in the future.  We are in the midst of it, and right now it looks to have 50% potential for success and 50% potential for epic disaster!)

In a modification to our Genius Hour projects, the 3rd and 4th grade students in my class are using an idea I got from the City X curriculum and a training with Venture Lab to design solutions to real-word problems.

These specific projects, obviously, do not fit the standard curriculum.  Students can synthesize their learning about sinking and floating by designing a new boat, or apply what they’ve learned about energy to inventing an alternate energy vehicle.  They can demonstrate what they’ve learned about measurement by designing a specific shape or a scale model. Another example would be to augment a presentation for social studies by representing the changes in a certain invention over time.

A 3d printer can become another way for students to demonstrate understanding of a concept.  Not all students will prefer this method. After the initial introduction to designing for 3d printing, this can become another choice out of many tools for final projects.  As a teacher, you can make this opportunity available to your students, helping them to be creators rather than mere consumers of another exciting technology.

Here is a link to ideas to consider before purchasing a 3d printer for your school or classroom.  Angelique Lackey and I will be presenting the City X curriculum at TCEA in Austin this year on February on February 4th.

Foolsball - a new sport designed by a 5th grader for the fictional residents of City X
Foolsball – a new sport designed by a 5th grader for the fictional residents of City X




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