3D printing seems to me like this new exciting technology that has a lot of potential uses but generally is just too expensive and experimental right now to really be useful. I have recently learned how incorrect I am! 3D printing is more accessible, affordable, and practical than I thought it was right now. Thank you to my wonderful classmate Amy, I learned all about 3D printing last class, including how I could use it right now and as a teacher some day soon.
Amy was able to do some 3D printing using the resources at Uvic. It is a bit of a process, but with some introduction and planning you can create any plastic item using their 3D printer. I was also surprised that the price, at least at UVic for students, was very reasonable, at only ten cents per gram. It takes some practice to get really good at designing your own 3D items, but you can print scans of things or pre-designed items as well. Amy created a cookie cutter, and then used it to make cookies for the class which was very cool and also delicious. She also brought in some samples from the 3D printing shop, including a little Pokemon figurine, an animal skull, and some other samples that showed different types of 3D printing options.
This seems very fun, but how could you use this for education? 3D printing is rapidly becoming more advanced and accessible, and it is being used for many real-world situations, so it is important that students are taught about it. For example, scientists are designing 3D printed human tissue that can be made from someone’s own stem cells so that they can get transplants using an actual exact copy of the organ they need. People also have 3D printers that use cement and can print out buildings, which would be very useful for building up war-torn villages and cities all over the world. There are so many possibilities with this new technology and we are only just getting started with it!
You can also use it in education by printing off items that would be of use for lessons. For example, many animal skulls would be too fragile for children to touch and pass around, but you can print from a 3D scan, and then the students have a plastic version of the skull that they can really investigate. You can create any kind of math manipulatives that you could think of. You can also print out buildings and historical artifacts, which would be very cool for some social studies units. This is also a great way to bring in differentiation in your class for visually impaired students. For example, you could print a model of The Colusseum, and the visually impaired students could experience it through touch.
There is a very interesting website called www.thingiverse.com that has an education section full of lesson plans that have 3D print designs to go along with them. I recommend you browse this site to get a better idea of the vast possibilities for 3D printing in education. Even if you don’t have access to a 3D printer, sites like thingiverse and sketchfab.com have scans of many historical artifacts and other items to explore that could be a very useful resource for many lessons and units.
I am excited at the possibility for using 3D printing both personally and as a teacher. I hope that we see continual advancement and accessibility of 3D printing in the future. Maybe there will be a day where every school has a 3D printer to explore and create with!