STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) or STEM initiatives have taken off in classrooms around the world. These initiatives are usually due to a school’s desire to increase students’ understanding of the creativity, problem-solving, and collaborative skills they will need to enter the workforce in the 21st century.
The presence of 3D printers in schools has surged along with STEAM programs. Teaching students the skills needed to design a 3D printed object, and the function these objects will serve, perfectly fits the STEAM model.
These skills are not new, but the “Age of Technology” has certainly increased demand for innovative thinking. Schools are now using 3D printers in many ways to inspire the young minds they teach.
Presenting Open-Ended Problems
A ten-year-old in Texas in the United States used a 3D printer to design a prototype for an object that could help save lives. His idea would prevent deaths of children left in cars on hot days when the interior temperature in the car reaches dangerous levels.
These are the types of open-ended problems that teachers are starting to present to their students. With 3D printing, students are tasked with designing a solution.
Such a problem might look like this: “The school’s venting system is very old, and a part that needs to be replaced is no longer in production. The school either needs to spend money to replace the entire venting system, or a new part needs to be designed.” Students work together to measure and test the part that will fix the system, saving the school money and solving a real-world problem in the process.
Activities like these focus on the skills students are learning, such as problem-solving, innovation, creativity, and communication, rather than specific curriculum, but 3D printers can help teach content, too.
Engaging With Curriculum Content
For years, teachers have asked students to create posters, PowerPoints, or diagrams of content to show what they have learned. 3D printing is simply another medium through which students can display new understandings.
In science classes, students might need to learn about topography. 3D printing allows students to show their understanding of different geographic features by 3D printing them.
History classes often study the technologies used by societies from different eras around the globe. By using a 3D printer, students can be tasked with designing a working catapult from medieval times to recreating an architectural marvel like the Coliseum.
3D printing can also easily let students apply their learning of area and volume in creating different objects. These objects can then become math manipulatives, such as spheres, pieces of “pie” that fit in a circle, cubes, or cylinders.
Even in English class, students might design 3D objects to represent characters, symbols, or concepts in a visual way.
Opening Doors In Competitive Fields
Often, students who learn to 3D print in schools use a program like TinkerCad. Programs like this introduce students to the types of modeling programs that can be used in advanced fields of engineering, technology, and robotics, giving these students a bit of a “leg up” when applying to university or internships in these fields.
Even if a student’s future career does not seem to have obvious 3D printing ties, the skills students learn through 3D printing can apply to almost any job, and 3D printing is finding its way into new fields every day.
Many companies today ask students about problems they have solved, or examples of using creativity and innovation, during job interviews. Students with backgrounds in 3D printing have ready-made responses to these questions.
Learning Life Skills
Teachers or other educational professionals are often the ones who procure 3D printers for their classrooms, and anyone who has ever done research into these machines knows that they may not be readily affordable for all schools.
The process of learning how to research different products, such as available 3D printers and their features and costs, teaches students beneficial economic and life skills. Students can participate in grant-writing, fundraising, or presentations to help their schools get 3D printers.
Additionally, many 3D printers have started showing up in shared spaces in schools, such as library makerspaces. In these cases, students also learn about shared caring and maintenance.
The ways that 3D printers have become incorporated into education systems around the globe reflects the increased prevalence of 3D printed products in many industries. Preparing students to enter the workforce today means giving them experience with relevant technologies.
As teachers continue to inspire and challenge young minds with creating new and useful solutions to real-world problems, these students will enter the workforce and bring their successful, innovative thinking with them.