kids3dShould there be 3D printers in schools or is there a better way to pass on the educational benefits of 3D printing?

I believe that having 3D printers in schools is a no-brainer but question whether the students are getting much out of them?

A Year 10 student stood at our stall at the Newcastle Computer Fair last week while his Dad marvelled at our 3D printer. He young guy excitedly started telling his dad how he did some design at school for the 3d printer at school. When Craig asked him how he it turned out his response didn’t surprise me. “Oh.. there wasn’t time to print it.”

Time… you need lots of it with 3D printing. As a teacher myself (Mel), I have been thinking about 3D printers in schools. Having taught Graphics Technology, I have seen what 14 year olds can design with something as simple as Google Sketch Up – I KNOW that having the capacity to actually print what you have designed is a major educational advantage! It is the whole NSW Design and Technology course in a nutshell. Design, test, redesign, test, design, build.  What better tool to use than a 3D Printer. The Reprap 3D Printers were created exactly for the purpose – to rapidly test prototypes.

The issue is time.

When a print can take half an hour plus, what options does the teacher have? In a 50 minute period, does 1 or 2 students get to watch their design be printed? You can’t just buy a super fast 3D printer because they don’t exist.

Does the poor teacher get to baby sit the printer while printing 30 students 30 minute prints? I shudder at the thought and am glad that I don’t teach Design and Technology.

What’s the options?

Will 3d printers only be used for demonstration purposes?

Will the students lose the educational benefits of experiencing  the process of design, print, redesign, print, redesign… until finally they have an amazing working 3D model!

I sincerely hope not.

I see a few solutions for 3D printers in schools.

  1. Purchase multiple 3D printers. It’s sure to help with the behaviour management for the kids who are hanging around waiting for their turn.
  2. Purchase a DIY 3D printer kit between 2 and have Year 10+ students assemble them as part of their Design and Technology course. Give the students the option to purchase them at the end. Imagine putting that on the school’s glossy brochure to attract students. “Build a 3D Printer!”

Or are we left with

  1. Buy the 3D Printer for the home. If the school isn’t able to really expose students to all the benefits of 3d printing, then get a kit for the family. Make it a family hobby where your teenager’s time is spent designing and printing rather than gaming


How much money does your school have to throw at science and technology?

I saw the face of our Design and Technology teacher fall as we spoke about 3D printers in schools. He was struggling with his budget to adequately teach the rest of his course. I seemed to be presenting his dream class but he knew that the finances weren’t going to be available.

That’s just a few of my thoughts on 3D printers in schools and 3D printers at home. I’m convinced of their usefulness and am grateful for the schools who are already using them, even if it is only for demonstration.

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