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1, 2, 3(D): Printing a new future in classrooms

While technology in the classroom isn’t a new phenomenon, Internet-connected devices and online programs are changing the way children learn, research, and create. 

3D printing has garnered a lot of hype recently, with its ability to create almost any everyday object. In fact, you can read about five things currently being made with 3D printers here.

Although this technology may seem complex and expensive, 3D printing is actually making its way into Australian schools, slowly but surely. And there are many ways it can assist in the classroom.

For example, history students could don their archaeologist hats and print artefacts for a closer, more detailed examination; while budding young scientists can get a better look at organs and molecules and art students can print designs and creative objects dreamt up by their imagination.

To get a better understanding of how this technology is currently being used, we spoke with Mandi Dimitris, Director of Learning Development at Makers Empire - a 3D printing software, specifically designed for K-10 classrooms. 

What is 3D printing currently being used for in the classroom?

MD: Although 3D printers have been a feature of workshops and CAD design programs in secondary schools for a while now, the technology is now starting to appear in primary school classrooms.

Teachers are incorporating 3D design and printing into their teaching and learning programs by asking students to create characters from books they have read, artifacts from historical periods they are studying, mathematical shapes and structures, and solutions to problems that have been posed.

How is it transforming the way kids learn?

MD: 3D printing is putting a tangible and accessible creation tool into the hands of students, enabling them to produce high quality products and to demonstrate their ideas and understandings as concrete models and representations.

This technology is positioning students as active participants in the design process, where they can generate ideas, be innovative and creative, collaborate with others, experiment and rapidly prototype their designs and produce authentic solutions to real-world problems.

These are exactly the types of qualities students will need to thrive in their 21st century futures.

What are the benefits of working with this technology from a young age?

MD: Working within 3D design environments supports young children to develop spatial awareness and to be able to visualise and conceptualise abstract concepts in concrete ways.

By supporting students to have success with design thinking processes at a young age, they are able to develop confidence and self-belief in themselves as problem solvers, innovators and inventors.

By being able to develop skills and confidence with 3D design, using age appropriate tools such as Makers Empire's 3D printing software, students are well placed to use more technical CAD programs when they get older.

How does 3D printing benefit teachers? 

MD: 3D printers are fast becoming an affordable and effective classroom tool that teachers can use as one of the ways that students can demonstrate their learning by creating a model, object or representation.

The technology produces high-quality, satisfying results and is intrinsically engaging for students.

3D printing also enables teachers to create their own hands-on teaching resources including models of historical artifacts and rare specimens that would otherwise be inaccessible to students and concrete representation of abstract mathematical or scientific concepts.

What does the future of 3D printing look like in the classroom?

MD: I believe that 3D printers will soon become a regular tool in primary school classrooms, sitting alongside the paper printers, pencil sharpeners and interactive whiteboards.

Teachers will not plan '3D printer' lessons but integrate the tool into their teaching. As students solve problems, create projects, collaborate with others and demonstrate their skills and understandings, 3D printers will be one of the tools available to them.

Students at North Adelaide Primary School are already lucky enough to be using 3D printing already and Assistant Principal, Rene Wavell is a huge advocate for this technology, "3D printing takes creativity to a new level. It provides students with the platform to really be innovative. Their world is 3D and now they can design in this engaging, natural dimension.”

While 3D printing is already changing the way children learn in classroom, it’s clear that this technology holds plenty of opportunity for Australian education in the future.   

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