What is 3D Printing?

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as 3D modeling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, are more than sufficient to express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) that can be conveyed in three dimensions.

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Why isn't STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) on this list? It'd be my #1 choice if it were. Nobody ever asks, but I just can't help myself from making my Top Ten List every year, in order of priority: (1) 3D Printing, (2) Makerspaces, (3) Online Learning, (4) Social Networks, (5) Augmented Reality, (6) Wearable Technology, (7) Information Visualization, (8) Drones, (9) Badges/Microcredit, (10) Learning Analytics. (3) and (4) might seem like old news, but they have yet to be fully appreciated in the K-12 world, and their time has finally come. Items I'd suggest for retirement: Electronic Publishing, since with GAFE everybody does it; BYOD, because people know they have to do this or 1:1; Flipped Classroom, because if you're not doing it by now, you never will; Cloud Computing, because you can't help but do it if you're a K-12 school; Mobile Learning, since if you're a K-12 school somebody is using tablets. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 8, 2015

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Folks at my school have been talking about a STEAM program, but until our 3D printer arrived last week everything was abstract, just a theory. Same goes for our Makerspace initiative, although STEAM and Makerspaces aren't the same thing. We hope to use our Makerspace as the focal point of our STEAM Program. There's nothing quite like 3D printing for implementing (excuse me) "21st century teaching/learning"...creativity, critical thinking, etc. It's interesting to note that our school's acquisition of one seems to have convinced everyone that we are indeed serious about STEAM...it's been downright inspirational. How can, e.g., Art and IT collaborate? A 3D printer is one obvious way. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 8, 2015 I totally agree with David on this one, as well as with all the other comments. The 3D printer was a turning point for us. It was the official launch of our Makerspace initiative last year, and has been a powerful motivator to get kids wanting to design in 3D just to see what it would look like after printed. It has been such a powerful motivator that kids started promoting courses to teach younger kids how to use it! And that's just with one! We are definitely looking forward to buying more soon! Especially since the prices are so accessible. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015
  • - kevin-johnson kevin-johnson Feb 8, 2015I agree with David on this. This is a very exciting new area that has many possible applications. STEM yes, but also Visual arts and design is integrated into everything, and more providers are gearing up for the K to 12 market.
  • Making rather than consuming. I was at BETT this year and there we so many 3D printer booths for educators. Having kids code and create. As Ian Jukes says the future jobs are creative jobs. Students can prototype and build. When they can make something they can use they will buy into their learning more. - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 9, 2015
  • Agreed 3D printing is fun, but its real power is in the creation of the product for a purpose. Dare I say creation with authenticity. The true beauty of the 3D printer is in the design. What is the purpose for creating the output? What problem will it help solve; What niche will it fit in society/the community? At the the end of the day the 3D is an output and the always present computing cliche still applies GIGO (garbage in garbage out)- mtaylor mtaylor Feb 16, 2015
  • Very relevant. See me recent article about the trending of 3D printing: http://www.display-central.com/free-news/display-daily/marching-schools-printing-3d/. - len.scrogan len.scrogan Feb 16, 2015 - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 20, 2015
  • - jon.k.price jon.k.price Feb 17, 2015I agree with the above. The power in the 3D technology is that it makes the "making" & prototypes accessible for real, authentic STEM & computational learning efforts. The Maker movement is even more attractive to young people when they can go beyond the Arduino box to make their own components.
  • Our High Schools each house popular programs with the 3D Printers, CNC machines and more they've been utilizing for the last 10 years. With the advent of more affordable 3D printers we now see these hitting our middle and elementary schools. The power in creation is amazing. Students quickly find methods to integrate with nearly any class on campus. To see children in kinder designing and printing is an absolute joy and wonder to behold. Put a 3D printer on campus is an easy investment to get everyone intrigued with STEM, design, collaboration, math, and how those topics integrate across the curriculum. If campuses don't have one yet, they should in the next year or risk being left behind. - digitalroberto digitalroberto Feb 22, 2015

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • I don't think the "rapid prototyping" references apply to education. A school's 3D creations are the final product. Laser cutters might need to be added soon. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 8, 2015 I do love a good laser cutter and have seen fantastic primary school toys made by senior students using them. Not to harp on a fact, they are an output and why are we making the things we making? Alas laser cutters come at a prohibitive cost compared to 3D- mtaylor mtaylor Feb 16, 2015
  • I agree with David, more types of creation tools like vinyl cutters, laser cutters, etc... Not restricted to plastic. There are ones that print food. - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 9, 2015 I agree with both here! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015 - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 20, 2015
  • Teacher training. Can not just throw 3D printers out there or leave them to the nerds. How are they accessible and useable by your average joe teacher who maybe is a little afraid of tech. The printers are so much more friendly for classrooms than they were before that with some pre-made lesson plans and activities it can be more mainstream. - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 9, 2015 This is a very important aspect. A good thing here is to include the kids to help the teachers. The process will go much quicker and be more significant. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015There are so many interesting and easy way to apply this in the classroom, as well as more and more user friendly apps for even the youngest students. While PD is needed, it won't keep kids from being creative and productive with the printers. - digitalroberto digitalroberto Feb 22, 2015
  • I agree with Alice. I don't see 3D printing as accessible to most K-12 settings...yet. How can we make training simple, meaningful, and fun for teachers who might not see the relevance?- cbsteighner cbsteighner Feb 14, 2015 Great point. Even before 3D printers are in the classroom, you can think about building 3D prototypes with other materials. The strategy can be built even before the technology arrives. And when it does arrive, it will be that much more fun! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015
  • Remember that 3D printing is just one part of this technology. All items printed are first designed, and visualized in an iterative process. 3D printing is nothing more than the output. The real strength of this technology is in the process: Designing, visualizing, making. The printing comes in the making phase. The emphasis should be on the entire process, not the output. This is the very essence of the coming COSN EdTechNext report on 3D: "Dimensions in Learning: Designing, Visualizing, and Making in 3D." ISTE has formed a PLN, now 2500+ members strong dedicated to this arena, as well:
    http://connect.iste.org/connect/communities/viewcommunities/groupdetails/?CommunityKey=adb9e54c-b219-47fc-a596-33b617f648bf - len.scrogan len.scrogan Feb 16, 2015 Perfect! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015Excellent - digitalroberto digitalroberto Feb 22, 2015
  • - jon.k.price jon.k.price Feb 17, 2015I also agree with Alice. However, In addition to further development of training material, there needs to beexemplars and/or models of use that provide empirical support for implementation. In a recent Maker study I conducted, one participant commented, “I learned a lot yesterday but I still don’t know anything.” For example, it was suggested that a collection of projects is needed with step by step processes to integrate the projects. Skills and competencies should be identified within the processes that enable teachers to find points that align to their knowledge.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • See (1) above. Also, with the price point for quality 3D printers steadily falling, every K-12 school will soon be able to afford one. This would be a great way to get STEAM going around the country: a 3D printer given to every school. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 8, 2015 Many schools can afford versions of 3D printers but the practicality of their use in cohorts of 60 students is questionable. Cheap versions are slow and pedantic.
  • - kevin-johnson kevin-johnson Feb 8, 2015Many useful applications and much is happening on the U.S. mainland. I just hope it gets to us in the International schools (Japan)etc...
  • Student centered classrooms need students producing and working, not passively sitting. This is a way for students to be DOING - mrskeeler mrskeeler Feb 9, 2015 - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Feb 20, 2015
  • 3D printing may spark a revival in design drawing/CAD/technical drawing as Sketch Up did a few years ago. Students take an enormous amount of satisfaction from creating and producing technical drawings/designs is one of them. Then to be able to realise their design in 3D is an element of the design cycle.- mtaylor mtaylor Feb 16, 2015
  • - jon.k.price jon.k.price Feb 17, 2015STEM is most powerful when relevant, real world projects are included. There are a number of news stories that describe how 3D printers have addressed real world needs such as prosthetics - even for animals.
  • I already commented in (1) how students were motivated to create workshops of their own. They love to explore boundaries to see what kind of object they can create that will be viable in the real world. This is a great tool to learn design, physics, creativity and much more. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 18, 2015

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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