The 3D Printer: A Modern Tech Tool with Tremendous Teaching Potential

There is little doubt that technology is making a noticeable impact in classrooms around the globe and a 3D printer is a great example of a modern tech tool that offers tremendous teaching potential.

The interesting point about a Weistek WT150 for example, which was voted best 3D printer 2015, is that it opens up the possibility of using a tool to teach rather than the more conventional viewpoint of teaching the tool.

Many new ways to learn

The thought of a 3D printer in our classrooms even a decade ago would have seemed more in line with science fiction than reality, but some of the prominent high schools that are renowned for their commitment to STEM subjects, have already been using 3D printers in the classroom for about 3 years.

The U.S Department of Education considers that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are the key to providing the education required for tomorrow’s global leaders and 3D printers are just the sort of teaching tools that will help achieve those aims.

What a 3D printer can do is bring subjects to life and rather than just reading books and watching a documentary about a subject and topic, a 3D printer offers the opportunity to transform the lesson into a more tangible experience.

Encouraging collaboration

The technical capabilities of a 3D printer also allow a far greater potential for classroom collaboration as well as a deeper learning experience.

One of many examples of how this works in practice would be a project carried out by Brooklyn Technical High School students, who designed a miniature hydroelectric dam that was able to harvest energy from flowing water using a turbine that was printed out in 3D.

Being able to work together as a team and actually create a working model using 3D technology opens up the chance for students to see their ideas and learning to come to life, which promises to promote a greater level of comprehension and a great grounding for the real challenges they face in their careers.

Getting a head start

A good point about this growth in technology in the classroom and the use of 3D printers, is that it is exposing students at a younger age to tasks that they would not have normally be set until they were in college.

The impact of 3D printing on engineering design is a great example of how a young student can be encouraged to tackle a design project and then actually print it out to see how it works physically rather than just on paper.

Seeing their design come to life with the help of a 3D printer allows them to see the flaws in their designs and work out more easily what needs to be changed. This is a revolutionary step forward in their education and getting this sort of ground at an earlier age than previous generations, should make them more competent and able to fulfill their potential in a shorter space of time in their career.

Unexpected benefits

Other than the obvious benefits associated with using technology like 3D printing in the classroom, the feedback so far has also highlighted that it encourages other qualities within the students.

Using a 3D printer to create prosthetics has had the effect of students displaying a greater social awareness and empathy for others. This unexpected benefit is understandably see as a welcome aspect of teaching using 3D printing, and is providing students with some very useful life skills.

Improving critical-thinking

Using 3D printing to learn engineering and design basics and concepts is allowing students to improve their critical-thinking skills.

This technology encourages students to experience real hands-on experience of problem-solving and allows students to not just become invested in the design and learning process itself, but it is also creating and nourishing skills such as problem-solving that will develop into habits that they can apply away from the classroom.

Improved confidence

Part of the learning process is learning to overcome failure and finds ways of improving your skills and levels of resilience, so that you can overcome any difficulties you encounter.

It appears that 3D printers are helping students to view initial failure in a more positive light and when they go through multiple iterations of a design until that initial failure turns into success, this resilience is leading to improved confidence.

3D printing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and many tech-savvy schools are keen to take advantage of this new tech teaching tool.

Tania White has spent many years in the classroom and teaches IT to our next generation of tech-wizards. She is very enthusiastic about the technology developments like 3D printing and what can be done with a tool like this. She writes regularly for a number of educational and technology websites.

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