“At the moment my GCSE students are 3dprinting some pretty cool stuff”



I am often asked how do you teach 3dprinting to whole classes of students? Many people outside of education seem to think that there is some kind of barrier to teaching the technology in a classroom. They see these great machines that print out objects layer by layer, but when it comes to education I have heard comments such as, ‘well they can’t all 3dprint at once so how does it work?’ True, you can’t have 20 students work all 3dprinting at the same time. We’re not in a situation where students all have their own printers in class to tinker with. The situation we’re in is like when personal computers first came out, if you had one in the classroom tucked away in the corner you were lucky.bbc-micro I remember having to take turns in class to use the ‘BBC computer’ we had just acquired. Now we have developed to a place where each student will have access to a computer without limitations, we have dedicated computer rooms with 30+ machines and in some schools they are moving to a climate of students having their own ipads to use in all lessons.

3Dprinting in class is not like traditional technology lessons where all students would be working away cutting mdf or acrylic. The process behind 3dprinting and creating a 3dprinted part is almost purely digital and the 3dprinting part is the end result. The key important feature to teaching students about 3dprinting is not the actual machine, but how to design a successful product that can be printed on a 3dprinter. Numerous companies have asked me how do I teach the technology? Many times during a sales pitch of them trying to sell their printers they claim, ‘the kids can download free models from thingiverse and print them’.  ‘Ok, where is the educational value in that’ I respond….’ lets just print someone else’s work… what have I learnt?’ The answer…. nothing. The key learning behind 3dprinting is getting the students working on 3DCAD packages. The design aspect is everything to 3dprinting. Students need to learn the basics of 3DCAD and then apply the knowledge to design their own product. From personal experience, teaching 3DCAD to whole classes of mixed ability students can be a real challenge. This is when a teachers knowledge of the CAD package is vital. Teachers need to know the CAD package they are teaching inside out, with so many features and options for students to explore and venture into, teachers need the confidence to be able to guide students in the right direction and ultimately teach them how to correct their mistakes. That’s another great thing about 3dprinting, we teach children it’s ok to make mistakes and that we learn from mistakes. We are in an educational culture at the moment where children feel like failures if they make mistakes, some children are afraid to fail. We celebrate success and look down on failure. However, how are we supposed to learn if they can’t  repeat things that have gone wrong? 3dprinting helps challenge this fear of failure. During the design process in lessons, students find they when their designs are printed they have to go back and re-design and print again to achieve perfection in their design. They are ok with this as they can see that their product will work, it might just need some minor adjustments. That’s another great feature of 3dprinting, you can make perfect designs that look fantastic. The technology takes away the lack of practical skills that some students struggle to adopt. If I design a basic iphone case and then teach my students to design the same case, when printed you would not be able to tell the difference between the teachers case and the students case. It allows the outcome of students work to be on a level playing field with anyone, no matter how practically skilled they might be . I have also found that with my current GCSE students they are extending their own learning by experimenting with 3DCAD and have lost their fear of failure. They are ok with the fact that it might not work first time around and they expect to have to re-design and this is where the key learning happens. This replicates real life Industrial Design. Apple doesn’t get it write first time, sometimes they have to re-design thousands of times to achieve perfection in their products.

The technology is so powerful in the classroom and has had such an impact in lessons, I asked students what they thought about the introduction of 3dprinting into their learning, their responses say it all;

I feel excited as there are a lot of things to do using the software and the 3dprinter. I also feel challenged to make new things.

I think 3dprinting is totally relevant as it is new technology which will soon be very big in the world. Therefore I think it is very relevant to Design and Technology.

I feel challenged as it is something new and you can be creative.

It allows you to be more creative and helps you to easily and quickly create intricate products.

I do think that 3dprinting is as it is the way of the future.

You feel excited because you have the freedom in what you do and you can design a lot of things.

There is no real formulae for teaching 3dprinting in lessons, you just have to concentrate on CAD give it a go and see how your students take it. If it works as a whole class great, if it doesn’t then maybe small groups or after school clubs. One thing it will do is spark students imagination and creativity, that a given!

Below are some photos of how 3dprinting is used to various projects. From left to right is a culture inspired desk tidy by a year 10 student. The robot leg is 3dprinted and will form part of a retro styled robot lamp that will move. This student is working from his initial cardboard model for measurements and then 3dprinting the final design in separate parts along with vacuum forming and lasercutting. The lampshade is a prototype for lamp that will be designed in the style of a vintage camera and the final image is for a part of a design that will be a Di Stijl lamp when finished.

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