When the New Media Consortium Horizon Project identified the technologies that were expected to have a major impact on STEM+ education in the next several years, its group of education experts around the world identified 3D printing as coming to the forefront in the next two to three years. For some classrooms, that day has already arrived.
As "Technology Outlook: STEM+ Education 2013-2018" stated, 3D printing is relevant in teaching and learning as a way to enable "more authentic exploration of objects that may not be readily available" to teachers and students; it provides a means to let students handle "fragile objects," such as fossils and artifacts that can be fairly quickly prototyped and printed out; and it opens up "new possibilities for learning activities." What the report doesn't say but the students in Christine Mytko's middle grade science class will tell you is that 3D printing also lets kids learn how to endure adversity and persist in solving problems.
For example, there's Cole Compton, who has gone through numerous iterations in his attempt to design and print out an iPad stand. As documented in Mytko's blog entry on the topic, "The Epic iPad Stand Journey," Compton faced challenges in designing his stand (he shifted from SketchUp to Tinkercad), grappled with loose filament feed tubes on the printer (a binder clip eventually saved the day on that), dealt with a build plate that wasn't heating evenly (Compton adjusted the positioning of the model to print in a different position), tackled a spool of filament that kept getting pinched up (the class borrowed a spool coaster from another printer), ran out of black filament hours into the print (Mytko attempted to complete the print with another color of filament, but the transition didn't work), and encountered an uneven printing bed that forced the print job to be canceled yet again.
"There hasn't been a completely successful iPad stand. Something always goes wrong though some of them have come pretty close," Compton noted stoically. Along the way, he added, he has also become accustomed to the fact that sometimes even the best efforts fail.
Mytko, who teaches at Black Pine Circle School, a private school in Berkeley, CA, is a life sciences teacher by training. She started an after-school club to introduce students to the "maker" mentality, applying practical skills to creative invention. That evolved into converting one of her science class days into "Maker Mondays," a double period with a focus on design and creation using programs such as Tinkercad, Makey Makey, and the 3D printers.