3D printers to enrich teaching
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Below is a 3D printing primer for education that you may find helpful.
Across STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and design subjects in particular, schools exploring innovative ways of using the technology to help teach more complex scientific and mathematical ideas.
The role of 3D printers in education 3D printing is now an established industrial technology used for prototyping and manufacturing products and components across a range of industries. It already has applications in many areas of everyday life.
3D printers create solid objects by building up layers of material, guided by models created in computer aided design (CAD) software.
Using 3D printers helps pupils to understand the application and potential of this new type of technology will be important to helping prepare them for a world in which similar technologies will be increasingly commonplace.
3D printers are gaining popularity in Design and Technology (DT) classrooms. There is considerable potential, however, for them to be used within a range of STEM subjects, for example to enable links to be made between mathematics, design and physics in a similar way to, for example, ‘sound’ enabling links between music, physics (wave properties), biology (hearing) and engineering (concert hall design) .
3D printers offer an opportunity for schools to explore innovative ways of teaching STEM subjects, stimulating pupil interest and enriching the curriculum.
Science and mathematics departments should explore the potential of 3D printing within their subject area. Many schools are reporting high levels of pupil motivation when engaged in these projects. Schools reported that early work with the printer was often a trial and error process and limited to demonstrations and printing of small files such as 3D shapes.
Teachers when introducing new technologies including teaching approaches need sufficient non-contact time to plan the most effective use of the printers.
- Schools need good technical support both from manufacturers and internal staff to start using the printer effectively.
Exploring teaching approaches
Where schools chose to engage in cross-curricular work they needed to overcome logistical challenges and difference in approach to teaching between subjects. The 3D printer is ideally suited to project work, where learning arises naturally as part of an investigation or construction project.
Design and Technology (DT) teachers more familiar with this type of teaching, where pupils spend time on individual project work. In DT it is common for pupils to be given a design brief and be expected to make personal choices about the design, which they then test out for themselves. This contrasts with common teaching practice in science and mathematics.
With 3D printing the focus is frequently on teaching concepts discretely and in depth. Where physics and maths teachers engaged with use of the printers successfully, they did so to promote thinking, reasoning and understanding of their subject.
The lead engagement of 3D printing frequently comes from DT staff, who organised the printing for mathematics and science teachers. This would allow teachers from other STEM areas to see how their subject could make use of the printer. Even within a single subject such as DT, the printer encourages cross-curricular thinking.
Topics covered will also include converting .stl files from the CAD software into .s3g format or other formats used by various 3D printers. Pupils should understand how the code is used in the conversion.
Production ideas include creating drawings and producing items ranging from letter stands, business card holders and phone stands for Father’s day’s gifts, brackets and injection moulded cases for Engineering projects even a desk lamp.
Pupils who were familiar with the design cycle (plan, design, make and evaluate) will be able to exploit the use of the 3D printer to shorten the “make” phase as the printer was quicker at producing items. It was possible to spend more time on “design” and “evaluate” to produce a better quality product.
Some of the prints should be made from scratch (see RV part example design above and actual fitted part below) rather than from a downloaded template from say thingiverse.com which we admit is fun.
Printing of 3D graphs is not straightforward as some think. Items are often needed to be printed with a supporting medium which is removed after the print this takes a bit of planning and a deep understanding of the limitations of each printer, software and medium combination.
Pupils can also applied mathematics, such as trigonometry involved in calculating back angles, plotting coordinates in the software so designs would maintain balance once printed by the 3D printer, and performing a costing exercise to evaluate value for money, how much filament will this job use and what is the cost?
As teachers you should allow some time to become familiar enough with the printer and associated software to use it successfully and confidently in teaching. Integrating the use of the 3D printer into the curriculum needs a little passion about the subject, don’t be afraid to experiment and innovate.
The most interesting uses are when teachers work collaboratively and where the entire school community was invited to use the printer. Liaison between departments was important to ensure that the teaching of the selected software was planned collaboratively across the school and across subjects.
Technicians (hired by hour) may play an active role in both facilitating printer use and assisting in the design work. Excellent in-school technician support is an important factor in the success of and 3D printing project for schools.
Your lead teacher may be a DT specialist (this is where the CAD expertise lies in most schools).
Printers should be kept on view and accessible to pupils, the logistics of using the printer is important. Permanently housed in one location or located in several locations including a staff room. The location of the printer is based upon school preference taking into account OH&S there is no right or wrong with regards to this but be aware print heads operate at high temperatures hence the reference to OH&S.
3D printers have a motivating effect on pupils, this is xlnt!
Pupils with poor concentration are able to see tangible results more quickly and as a result may keep up their interest in the lesson. There are applications that allow students to view the progress of their job from home and pause or cancel the print if required as not every print goes to plan.
Exploring complex designs and ideas keeps students more interested.
Training and development needs
During your project, you’ll need committed and hard-working teachers and technicians to become familiar enough with the printer and its associated software to begin to use it with pupils. For this reason, 3D printing is regarded by many schools as an exploratory pilot.
Plan to build on the work, making more informed use of the printers in the next academic year. Teachers will also benefit from demonstrations of the printer set up and software by experienced presenters.
Training sessions need to be followed by opportunities to practice what has been learnt. Some teachers feel progress would be impossible unless their teaching load was temporarily reduced. Consider a period of time off-timetable to consolidate programming and printing skills.
Lack of CAD expertise amongst non DT teachers is a barrier to using the printer to its full potential, in teaching of 3D STEM and design subjects. You need to factor in time required to train teachers and embed new approaches to teaching.
This allows teachers starting from a lower base of expertise in 3D technologies adequate time to reflect on the various possibilities and to work with other teachers to develop and implement their ideas.
To maximise the opportunities that 3D printing offers for subjects beyond DT, particularly physics and mathematics, teachers should be open to new ways of teaching, including pupil-led experimentation. Independent learning can result in improved academic learning and other, wider benefits. Independent learning starts by simple, freely downloadable designs from websites such as Thingiverse. This is useful as an introduction to how 3D printers work.
This will stimulated ideas for further possibilities by staff and pupils during the initial training period. The majority of schools use Sketchup as their software mainly because it is a free program, available for pupils to download out of school hours.
Dedicated training and on-going support in using the relevant software across departments proved is essential, it will take a while for inexperienced teachers to become familiar with the capabilities of both the printer and the design software. When teachers are confident, they could teach usage of the technology effectively to pupils.
Choosing a printer
Points to consider are:
Who will use it?
What will it be used for?
Speed of printing
The interface between the printer and the files to be printed
Cost of consumables
Ease of use
Accessibility of printer location
What type of filament works best for your requirements?
Suitability of printer local environment e.g. to minimise draughts and lifting problems
Compatibility of firmware with school operating systems and networks
Quality and accessibility of after sales support
Applications that allow remote monitoring of large time consuming jobs available?
Other points of feedback from schools:
Some prints can take hours
Will pupils designed models that the printer is unable to make?
Number of faults that happen are they relatively easy to fix?
The printer requires technical support?
Open design on the printer needed for the type of filament?
Some printing materials work better than others
Have the software in place before engaging with the printer
3D printers have significant potential as a teaching resource and can have a positive impact on pupil engagement and learning if schools can master how to use the printers in an effective and meaningful way.
Schools should explore potential benefits and challenges of using this technology in the curriculum and to share their experiences with other schools wishing to introduce 3D printers. Individual schools need to decide how to integrate new technologies into their curriculum.
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