June 12, 2014
A Year with 3D Printing in the Classroom
I have a couple of more 3D printing projects that I haven’t written about this year, but by the time this posts it will be the last day of school, and I feel like this would be the right time to reflect on what a year of 3D printing in the classroom was like.
I started the year with a lot of ideas and excitement, but I wasn’t really sure how the year would pan out. Looking back now I couldn’t be happier. The level of learning that occurred this year was more than I expected. As excited as I was at the prospect of using a 3D printer in the classroom, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to tie it to the curriculum. I wondered if my students would be able to understand how it works and be able to use it effectively. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have time for projects with all the other demands that happen in a classroom. My concerns were overshadowed by the novelty and the excitement of the printer. I think that is what many of my students felt too. They were curious, excited, and bewildered.
The use of the 3 D printer started off really slowly for me. There was just too much that needed to be done. I remember offering the use of it for our first book report. The students were making dioramas and a handful of them wanted to use it. I offered it to them, but the learning curve was a bit too much and they found alternatives so they could finish their assignments. Then we did the insect unit. This the students their first real taste at designing something on a screen and printing it into existence.
We faced many challenges with it, such as designing something that the printer can properly print and trying to print 30 different files twice. They had to create a work flow to get everyone through. A few students had to learn how the 3D printer worked while creating a newsletter for this project. They in turn organized a schedule of what to print and when. We were able to look at print fails and talk about what went wrong and why. Some students when back to the drawing board while others just made adjustments. That project opened the door to this tool for my class.
They were no longer in the dark on how to use it, and their imaginations began to work on what and how they could use it. Each project we did created a host of problems that they were able to overcome. It became somewhat of a common occurrence to hear students cheer and see them jump up and down high-fiving each other when something would come together and work. That’s not something that is achieved very frequently from reading about a topic out of a text book and then taking a test on it. Yet, The group that put together the California Mission Circuits demonstrated an understanding of parallel and series circuits that I have not seen from a test.
The last project that we did in class was to create game boards about various California History topics. This time I didn’t even have to mention the 3D pritner. As soon as the students were given my expectations they started planning on what they would make for their games. Not every group used the printer, but they knew they could. In fact, one group opted not to use it because they knew that it would be challenging to print everything they wanted in the time frame that they had. For a 10 year old to have that kind of foresight is no small thing.
Many of my students found files on Thingiverse that fit with the theme of their game, they downloaded it, modified it if it needed to be, and printed it without any help from me. One student spent her time creating her own game pieces.They were trains and they were fantastic!
I was so proud of her for taking that on. They were all so proud of the work that they had done. Which is another quality that is hard to find in other teaching strategies. Students are often proud of the grade they get, but rarely are do they feel the kind of ownership and pride that comes with the types of projects we were able to do with the 3D printer this year.
I couldn’t be happier with what I saw this year. I am so proud of my students and what they accomplished. I know they each have bright futures, and I am already looking forward to what will happen in the classroom next year, after a nice long break of course!