In the United Kingdom, the Department for Education ran a 3D printing pilot in which 21 schools were provided with funding to purchase a 3D printer, consumables, and support. The aim was to investigate the potential of 3D printing in particular reference to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and design subjects.
The pilot found many advantages to putting 3D printers in classrooms. Not only did students take to the technology, but it pushed teachers to explore new ways to teach their subjects and encouraged cross-curricular work.
Here in New Zealand, 3D printing is also making its way into many classrooms.
Paul Francois, product manager at Comworth Technologies, says that 3D printers are now an affordable option for Kiwi schools.
Comworth recently launched its range of 3D printers at the Future Learning Environments conference in Auckland. Among the devices on display was the XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 – an example of how affordable and user-friendly 3D printing can be.
Retailing at under $900 means the device is in the grasp of every school. The consumables are also inexpensive; a 600gm cartridge retails at around $45, which equates to 9c a gram, and results in a cost for most printed models under $5. The printer is capable of producing models of up to 20 cubic centimetres and has a 600gm cartridge-based consumable that is as easy to exchange as printer ink toner.
“Low cost also allows schools to have multiple printers, instead of a single one under lock and key,” says Francois.
Operating the da Vinci 1.0 requires no special expertise. “Any class or teacher can operate it. Simply convert a 3D design in the printer software, plug-in via the USB and press print.”
Whakatane High School ICT manager Niall Pearce is a convert to 3D printing.
“Creating a 3D printed object from scratch is an opportunity to follow the technology process from brief, through design and prototyping, to finished article,” says Pearce. “So any project that has that approach and needs a physical outcome may find 3D printing useful.”
3D Printing Systems, which serves New Zealand and Australia schools and businesses, agrees there are many uses for working in digital 3D in education. It gives engineering as an example.
“Rather than starting prospective engineering students off with abstract theory and math-based problem solving, why not expose them to the joys of product design by enabling them to experience, first-hand, an entire product design cycle in less than a week? Students interacting with 3D at an earlier age will open doors to get them interested in engineering and thinking out of the box, so to speak.”
It also suggests Minecraft as a good place to start, allowing students to play, create, and learn in a digital 3D world that can now be brought to life with 3D printers.
Myles Webb, deputy principal of Auroa Primary School in Taranaki, says he used Minecraft at his previous school as 3D modelling program. Now he is using 3D design programs to design three- dimensional models of classrooms and material that can be 3D printed.
Webb, Pearce, and other advocates for 3D printing in the classroom are likely to see many more join their passion for this growing technological trend in New Zealand education. The arrival of low-cost, user-friendly devices will serve to further drive this growth.