Thursday, March 7, 2013

Will 3D Printing Be the Next "Big Thing" in Education

Recently while watching television shows on the major networks I have observed references to 3D printers as part of the plot line.  These references got me thinking about how 3D printing might impact or change teaching opportunities.  Granted, the 3D printing systems are still not nearly affordable for the average school district, but there was a time when a color laser printer was viewed the same way.  In 5-10 years when the price of 3D printing has decreased, will educators see them placed in classrooms?

First we must understand what a 3D printer is and how it works.  Currently they can use liquids, powders, and other materials to form each layer.  The time it takes to print something depends on the size of the object being printed.  Objects can be made from plastic, stainless steel, and medical grade titanium.  Printed objects can be created with working components, hinges, and parts within parts.  Imagine for a minute being able to print a compass in a math class for your students.

With a 3D printer students can touch and hold objects, which will assist in bringing student creations to life.  Students can also make prototypes of designs to help better understand the creation process.  How could this information be used in the classroom?  Science classrooms could make replicas of body parts and print out molecules to study.  Home Economics classes could print out replicas of food they want to make.  Geography students could literally print out topographic maps and city landscapes.  Want to take your kids to New York City?  Print a replica and virtually visit all the skyscrapers.  History students could print out historic artifacts.  Geometry teachers could print out shapes to measure and calculate.  English students could create replicas of Shakespeare's theaters.  We have students that are using CAD and I could imagine the possibilities of them being able to print out their final projects.  These are ideas just scratching the surface.  
Below is an infographic explaining 3D Printing and where I got much of the information above (Click to enlarge).

And if you haven't seen it, the first 3D Pen is in development as well; 3Doodler.  

What are your thoughts about 3D Printing in Education?