Log in

Why 3D printers?

  • Public
Started by Tessa Gray 17 Dec 2013 10:55am () Replies (18)

I was watching TV One Breakfast show this morning - particularly the piece on using 3D printers in schools. My initial thoughts were... Make 3D plastic models of what exactly?

Inspiring news item, but I was a bit stumped (might be because it’s nearly the holidays). it got me wondering >>> how might students use 3D printers in an authentic/creative/innovative way? Undecided

It reminded me of this quote from, Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective (R Bolstad & J Gilbert with S McDowall, A Bull, S Boyd & R Hipkins).

In many people’s minds, new technologies are synonymous with future-oriented education. Rapidly evolving technologies open many exciting opportunities for learning in the 21st century. However, research in schools suggests new technologies only enable transformation when they are supported by ideas and social contexts that enable transformative practice. (p55)


imageSo, if you had a 3D printer in your class (budget no issue), had the capability to use it, then provided an authentic opportunity to inspire and create new ideas and had strategies in place to support innovation in the classroom....what could be the results?

What plastic wonder would you create?

Image sourced from Creative Commons.


  • Tom Neumann (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 11:37am ()

    You could duplicate the printer (or most of its parts) to allow students to see how it works.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 12:34pm ()

    Thanks Tom....so investigating the mechanics and engineering of the printer. Maybe they could research processes for creating inventions in the first place before attempting to invent themselves? 

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 2:58pm ()

    Meanwhile, over in the Twittersphere...

    Tweets about 3D printers

  • Stephen Lethbridge (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 5:39pm ()

    I suppose this is where I come in as the principal in that Breakfast piece this morning. 3D printers are not new technology - in fact in using 3D printers we are not prepararing kids for their futures - we are just using the technology of the day - the here and now.

    3D printers are more than printing plastic models and must be seen in the bigger picture of thinking digitally in 3 dimensions. Being able to print out the end product is a bonus. We have 4 commercial 3D printers and 2 reprap printers that can print themselves so you can build more!

    I see 3D printing as creation - we can design / draw in Google SketchUp, FormZ, TinkerCad, OpenSCAD and then have that design built for us to use. Examples are attachements for robots, stands for devices, key rings, buttons, moolds for chocolate, replacement plastic parts - even hooks for school bags (normally $15 per hook for metal under a dollar to produce your own!), Hydropnics punnets, protoyping and modelling wind turbines, Art projects in a virtual world can become physical through the act of printing them out - vases, bracelets jewellery. The tool is only an instrument of the creative person behind it.

    The power comes when you combine the printing with other maker technology like Arduino (microcontrollers) and electronics. An example of this I saw today - I had a group of kids putting together arduino light sensing robots from @zombiebothq the robot has no body - it is over to the kids to make this out of cardboard or lego or wood or as one 10 year old said - I could take measurements of the arduino and the breadboard and draw a case for it in sketchup then print it out! CREATION!

    As always the teacher is crucial - let us look at the normal colour printer - yes you could download pictures and print them - is that creation? Same with 3D printers, you can download from thingiverse.com or you could scan using 123DCatch and print out someone's head or you could CREATE.

    This is the new frontier - do you remember getting your kids to design an amazing playground? Then we usually said let's build a model of it to sell the idea to the BoT. The resultant model looked rubbish as it was made of tooth picks and toilet rolls. Kids know that is budget! But design it virtually in 3D and then have the bonus of printing it as a scale model? - wow the product actually looks like the design.

    We will be printing our own spare parts for everyday items within 5 years - these will be downloaded to you home printer and then printed. Our kids must be able to work in a 3D virtual space in order to be creators.

    So to answer the 'I can't see the point' with a question of my own - I can't see the end to the possibilities...

    The key to your question Tessa is not the technology - in fact leave out the technology full stop! The real issue is us teachers - how are we creating opportunity for creative, innovative authentic learning...

    This repsonse is a little hurried and I reserve the right to edit and shape it further. It will be one of the areas I blog about over the summer when I launch my new blog...



  • Monika Kern (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 5:55pm ()

    Looking forward to that blog post, Stephen!

    I have not had the opportunity to use a 3D printer in teaching yet, but to me it is a tool towards making learning authentic. We give the children opportunity to be curious, to wonder and to inquire. It's 20C pedagogy to have them write a report about this that nobody will read, a little bit better to make presentation about it to others, more authentic when we give them a world-wide audience via a blog or sim., but the ultimate authenticity is when students can take action as a result of their inquiry (e.g. see Kath Murdoch's model). A 3D printer can make this possible in some instances ;)

    My 5c worth! I definitely want to come visit and see your student is action, Stephen!

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 9:08pm ()

    Thank you Stephen, for this post. Firstly I need to say, congratulations on this morning's new item in your school. Any national news items showcasing innovative practice in schools - is always a highlight.

    I think in a lot of ways, the Breakfast news item highlighted certain facets of the availability/affordablity (ubiquitous access) of the technology, rather than the process-driven thinking behind using it. No surprises really - in the short time-frame. So, again thank you for this explanation, I also look forward to your blog Smile!

    You've written, "As always the teacher is crucial". I'd love to know more about what this process looks like for your teachers (PLD, skill building, brainstorming etc), so they can create relevant contexts for students to use these technologies in an authentic way.

    Maybe your student (Daniel) and yourself would entertain presenting your story (processes, ideas, products) to us via a LIVE webinar next year for Enabling e-Learning - to help inspire those of us, who struggle with imagining the possibilities?

    Having just read in the Engineering and Manufacturing magazine, that 3D printers are becoming so cheap, we'll be able to print anything from home, and that they've already made a fully functioning gun (fired 50 rounds)...makes me wonder if more conversations around potential and possibilities might be welcome? Smile

  • Stephen Lethbridge (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 10:16pm ()

    Thanks Tessa

    You are correct the 15 sec sound bites in news artcles are never really enough to capture the essence. I wish they had used the "It isnt really about the printing it is about thinking and manuipulating in the virtual 3D world" comment as it would have made me sound more intelligent than the "our MoE visitors liked it - great engagement!"

    I am a firm believer that there is one killer app in education - A thinking Teacher who adapts to change. We are like every other school we have teachers who are groundbreaking in their approach to using technology and those teachers who doing a great job - the second wave if you like. The biggest factor has been professional freedom - freedom to experiment, fail, redesign and try again. With any resource, technology, plan it is the teacher that 'makes the magic possible'

    Daniel is moving on in 3 days - off to high school but we could have some other children talking about all things tech. We had #thebigupgrade crew film us for a day last week relating to all things tech - no shortage of kids willing to talk.

    The key for me as a leader has been to play and tinker with the technology. I had no clue at the start of the year I would have built a 3D printer (even though it was under expert supervision) I had no idea we would have students coding, Junior kids using scratch or Senior students collaborating with another group of year 8s in another school on the their own video game using Unity. I had no idea of the impact that arduino technology would have on my view of bridging the analogue and digital worlds. More than anything the maker movement is having a powerful influence over my thinking about curriculum. 

    The potential is huge! I cringed when Maurice Williamson said 3D printers are dangerous as they can print guns... As a maker friend of mine said "if you want to build a gun you wouldn't use a printer" You are right - this tech will be pervasive and as with any tech we will have creators and consumers - our kids need a creator mentality. I loved a comment today from an 11 year old in Zombie Robots - "Hey Mr L I mucked around with the code look what we can make this circuit do now..." As teachers we need to 'muck around with the code' are we using the technology of the day today? Are we relying on the technology to do it for us? Are we the slave to the technology bound by its apparent limitations or are we the masters of the technology making it bend to purpose?

    Now that this is getting into a rambling 'pre-termintor' rant I should breathe.




  • Steve Mouldey (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 10:37pm ()

    We are lucky enough to have a brand new MakerSpace with 3D printers when our school opens at the start of next year. So far I have been able to ooh and ahh over the printers at the Mind Lab and at Taupaki School so I am really looking forward to getting to use them with my students.

    I have been talking with one of our Technology teachers about working together on a module next year based around the use of the 3D printer. As part of our concept of Place/Space the Social Sciences teachers will have a focus on developing mapping skills. As 3D printers operate on cartesian coordinates (x,y,z) I see these combining to be taught together really well.

    In this manner the students can learn mapping coordinates, 3D printer coordinates, make a map of the area to test their coordinate skills and then use their skills to create and make something of their choosing that represents our place/space at Hobsonville Point. It's a starting point for me but I am very excited about what it could lead our staff and students onto in the future! I'm sure our Tech teachers have even better ideas than I do.

    For more on the opportunities that 3D printers and the like provide, I highly recommend reading Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez - or check out the website www.inventtolearn.com

  • Stephen Lethbridge (View all users posts) 17 Dec 2013 10:48pm ()

    Agree re the book Invent to Learn - a must read!

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 18 Dec 2013 10:07am ()

    It must be all in a name....thank you Stephen and Steve. Things are becoming a lot clearer for me now. Smile

    Thank you for the link to the book also. I know what my holiday reading is now. In fact, I'd love to play with a 3D printer over the holidays! Christmas presents anyone?

    So, if our teachers are visionary, build their own capacity and plan and implement for authentic integration, students can then research, plan, design, create, modify and reflect on new learning -in any context?

    If you hear of any more ideas for authentic learning opportunities, I'd love to hear those too :-)

Join this group to contribute to discussions.

e-Learning: Technologies

e-Learning: Technologies

Where we explore how different technologies can support learning.