Creativity and Imagination Education Technology

Printing the Future- 3D Printers in Education

Written by Myles Webb

I am a classroom teacher in a rural New Zealand school. We have 200 students and are a 1:1 iPad School with students from 5 to 12 years old. In 2013 I attended a conference session on 3D Printing and was handed a 3D printed elephant. I thought it was a bit of a gimmick at the time and I couldn’t really make the link at that stage between 3D printing and using it in a meaningful way in the classroom. My principal at the time was extremely keen to have our students innovative and creative so we moved forward with the purchase of a kit set 3D printer in 2014.

It was a disaster. What arrived involved considerable assembly, which we were unable to complete. We sent this version back and ordered a pre-manufactured and already set up 3D printer. We were told this would be ready to print out of the box. And it was. This printer allowed us to make some basic, rough prints. The quality and headache associated was increasingly frustrating to staff and students.

But we persevered.

At present we have three Ultimaker 2+ Printers that are situated in the three senior classrooms at our school with students ranging in age from nine to thirteen years old. We tried having these in a specific makerspace at first, but this was limiting their use. They were moved to classrooms with the intention that the students use of them would drive their ideas.

When students enter my room, nine and ten year olds, they haven’t used the machines before. It’s exciting to be the gateway to this new form of creation. Students are able to use the 3D printers if they design and create an original project. The school picks up the bill for the PLA (plastic).

I start each year with each student creating a basic design. From there I encourage them to create original designs (this gets modelled in class to all the students). There are online sites such as Tinkercad and Thingiverse with millions of designs, however we are very much putting the onus on the students to design and problem solve for themselves.

A basic design would be some form of name badge. These typically feature the name of the student and a way to either have the badge hung from a wall. We use Tinkercad to create nearly all of our students projects, as it has a straightforward interface, and an account is free. Typically, the design time for something like this with a student who has not used the program before is under five minutes. We direct students with the depth of the plate so that it reduces the print time which, depending on the machine and settings, would be two to three hours.

The other basic design we encourage for a starting point is some variation on a cookie cutter. These being hollow, printing time falls between ninety minutes and two hours. Bear in mind, when you start to multiply time by the students in a class it can take a week to complete the full set of prints. The print to the right was produced by a six year old.

From this lift off point the students who have shown an interest and innovation are given opportunities to create. My all time favourite print was created by a student whose sister had cerebral palsy. He designed and created a balance ball for his sister to help her use her iPad without assistance. We’ve also have students who have printed designs to complement their stationary and produced a range of desk tidy items that have been personalised with their names, as can be seen at the top of this post. We’ve also had a range of prints designed to be used with Edison Robots, which is something that we’ve been encouraging. It’s great to cross the STEAMs.

When we first had the 3D printers we created projects to just use the machines. Most people don’t realise the time that a print takes. Those early projects tended to be in the twenty to thirty hour printing range. We would run the printers overnight so students could get their projects the next day.

Our students live in a farming community, so we’re still looking for ways to integrate the printers with solving practical problems around the farm. The goal is for the students to continue to be exposed to the technology, while creating original ideas and bouncing ideas off each other. I currently have a group who are refining their design of boxes to store Edison Robots, iPhones and iPods. They’ve been experimenting with drop down lids and internal storage spaces.

I’m really lucky because the teacher in the class next to me is good on the technical side and forever helping me with technical problems (once a fortnight or so). The technology is only going to get better, and I’m proud that we’re doing what we can to keep our kids on the leading edge.

 

Ed. Note- 3D print times have reduced dramatically with more modern machines, and depend on the size of the project.


Myles has been teaching for nearly twenty years now, in classrooms from Y3 to Y8 (which is 8 to 12 years old). He has worked across New Zealand at a range of schools and currently lives in South Taranaki, New Zealand at a rural School with 200 students. He is on Twitter at @NZWaikato and all the 3D Printing Projects from the last two to three years from his students and school can be located at 3dprintschool.blogspot.com

About the author

Myles Webb

1 Comment

  • Way to go Myles! It’s great you’re exposing young kids to 3D printing.

    I love the storage boxes idea. They’re simple to test and refine. As the editor notes, 3D print times are getting faster, and therein lies the true power of 3D printing: rapid prototyping. When students know they are able to repeatedly test and (relatively) quickly reprint, they feel liberated to take risks and be more creative. It’s the first step toward learning how to break big problems down into smaller simpler problems.

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