I wrote a post not that long ago about searching for lessons posted online that involved using a 3D printer in the classroom. I started a doc, collected what I could and asked for others to send over links by email or to edit the doc themselves.
The doc has grown some, but not dramatically. As far as I can tell, there’s a reason for this – there just isn’t that much out there. There is a lot of information about printers, their potential to be in every home, school and classroom. There is information about how 3D printing has the potential to change manufacturing and industry. But as for classroom lesson or unit plans, not that much exists.
Lets be clear to start off – 3D printers aren’t very common to find in schools and classrooms. While they have exploded online and in the geek community, they still aren’t something you’re going to find in too many places, let alone schools and classrooms. While that is changing and the community is growing, the market for printers far exceeds the reality of what is actually out there. Falling prices and rising quality is going to change this, but for the moment, we’ve got classrooms with geeky teachers and not a lot of quality lessons available.
This is an example of a project I could find online that is actually pretty good:
“A town named Willingdon has just decided to create a community center dedicated to helping people in the town. The mayor of the community is searching for young, creative, and brilliant architects who can build a community center in Willingdon.
Your challenge is to design an original model of a community center that can serve the needs of citizens using three-dimensional shapes. The mayor will need to see your plans, measurements, and a model in order to consider using your design.
The community center must stand up on its own and should include the use of at least 3 different three-dimensional shapes. You must convince the mayor that the building will serve the community in positive ways to help people in need. You must complete the challenge within six class periods. You will be given a budget of 50 Willingdon dollars to complete this challenge. “
This project has the potential to bring together skills around design, 3D modelling, public speaking, proposal writing, 3D diagramming, shape and space and other outcomes. Most likely it would be suitable for an upper elementary or middle years classroom depending on what you want to put in to for details and expectations. This isn’t simply a “lets download something and print it!”
I had to head through the Web Archive to find Makerbot’s curriculum since it seems to have been removed from the web. Although this document is incomplete and very uneven in quality, I found a lesson on making flying whirligigs and another on gears that both have potential to grow into something if they were brushed up and completed.
The final, most complete example I found was this project on creating wind turbine blades and testing them. A fairly high level project intended for use in a high school physics classroom, this looks to me to be an example of a lesson that allows something to happen in a classroom that wouldn’t be possible without a 3D printer.
These few examples show some of the potential that having a 3D printer can bring to your classroom. Math, science, art, design, social studies and language arts outcomes could all be quite easily incorporated into lessons and units. While there are growing libraries of objects online that teachers can download objects from to use as classroom artifacts and demonstrators, the main focus of these tools should rest with their ability to have kids create, customize and design objects. In my mind, that is the most powerful use of this tool in a classroom.