How can 3D printers be used in the classroom?
The advantages of using 3D printers for teaching can broadly speaking be divided between: 1. the direct use of 3D printers, using them to teach design and manufacturing principles and practice, both applied and theoretical; 2. the indirect use of 3D printers to produce teaching aids for other subjects.
The direct use of 3D printers in the classroom
The most obvious advantage of 3D printing is that the classroom can become a mini factory, 3D printing gives us the dispersed manufacturing model whereby individuals have the power to manufacture their own goods and to even design them themselves. Teachers are therefore able to take their students through the whole product design process from the initial Sketches to the production of 3D models and them on to prototyping those models with a 3D printer. There is a very good example of this from the US where a group of students came up with the idea of designing a new lid for a tomato ketchup bottle that would stop the very watery component of the ketchup from coming out>
Such projects can teach students about product design, identifying a need, designing the product and then testing prototypes but also students gain the practical skills of 3D modelling, using 3D design and CAD software. There are a number of software steps involved in 3D printing, using 3D printers is therefore great for ICT skills. Due to the explosion of 3D printing there are also a number of online 3D design portals popping up that make entry level 3D design possible without the need for steep learning curve usually required for CAD and 3D modelling packages.
If you have the budget building a 3D printer in the classroom is also a great project, it involves many very useful, practical, vocational skills from simple construction to electronics and CNC. Components can be sourced individually or 3D printer kits can be bought, like that of the Cetus.
The indirect use of 3D printers in the classroom
Additional to 3D printers being used for ICT and Design subjects there utility as a production facility means that you can use them to make a whole host of teaching aids that you might not normally have access to or if you could find them would make their use prohibitively expensive. We have a number of 3D models available for download that fit into this category. For instance 3D printable CO2 cars, the 3D printable bust of Amenemhet III, the p67 comet that has been landed on by the Philae probe.
The CO2 car project is great as you can use it to teach physics, aerodynamics and friction. The Amenemhet III or the comet 3D prints help your students to visualise what you are teaching them, they fuel the imagination. A good example of this are molecular models. These can be readily obtained by visiting, for example the Protien Data Bank and exporting files in .pdb format. These files can then be opened by software like Chimera and then exporting them from there into a .STL file format. These .STL files can then be used as any other .STL file and imported into your slicer software of choice. If you don’t know much about using 3D model files for 3D printing then please take a look at our brief guide to 3D printer software. An alternative source for chemistry molecular models can be found on Thingiverse.
There are many great 3D printable models available that can be a great asset for teaching. The above image is from a 3D model file (.STL) of a plasma cell membrane. Great for helping students to visualise the various structures and as a resource you are able to print out as many as you want. Considerably cheaper than buying in ready made teaching aids.
How can iDig3Dprinting help with your 3D printing educational projects?
iDig3Dprinting is always willing to help as much as possible schools, colleges and universities with their 3D printing needs. In the first instance, we are always willing to try and answer any questions you may have. Talk is free so send us an email to ask any questions about using 3D printing in education. Secondly we are always willing to give an educational discount on 3D printing products.