3D is the magic number


  • Simon Chandler, Managing Director, CREAT3D
  • Kevin Askew, Business Development Manager, GoPrint3D
  • Jason Budge, Specialist Leader in Education, Technology and Creativity, Computing at School
  • Paul Croft, Ultimaker (GB), Founder CREATE Education Project

➙What skills can young learners gain from having 3D printing in the classroom?

Simon Chandler: One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is its versatility. It is so wide reaching, spanning a number of different purposes, across different industries, from manufacturing, design and medical to engineering. Students can not only develop and test concepts and ideas in real-life, but also then make adjustments, enhancements and developments. They will develop skills in 3D design, animation, science (properties of different materials), engineering, manufacturing, product innovation, product development and many more, setting them in good stead for their future careers. 

Kevin Askew: Really, the benefit of 3D printing depends on the age group. The 3D printed product is the end piece, with the skills developed being part of the journey to achieve this item. The first skill requires real-world problem-solving or product enhancement, determining what needs to be made and why. The development stage of the idea incorporating 3D CAD (computer aided design) software, opens up a range of skills including 3D spatial awareness, mathematics including measurements and angles, new software skills and consideration of materials for production. The 3D printer should be considered as part of the schools’ toolkit, not just as a standalone machine. Additional analytical skills will also be developed: Can I make this quicker using another method or is 3D printing the only way I can achieve the desired result quickly and cost effectively?  Product evaluation: Does it work? If not why not? The beauty of 3D design and printing is that you can assess the model, change the iteration and print version “x” of the design.

Jason Budge: Primary-aged children can learn so much from engaging with a 3D printer. It can be used in many ways to help bring more to numeracy lessons. Just to create three-dimensional models the children have to engage with applied measurement, addition, subtraction, geometry and the list goes on. As teachers we are always searching for real-world examples for children to experience mathematical learning and I find that 3D printing delivers this in spades, given the fact the children are working on models and projects they are involved in developing from the very beginning.

Along with this it also helps them to learn a range of programming skills and knowledge of engineering (especially when things do not quite go to plan). Following on from this is the general problem-solving thinking that goes into looking at the failed product, the available data and how to adjust things to make it work. In my mind this is the perfect form of use and applied, problem-based math learning.

One more thing that can be of great learning for children, is to produce products and use them in an enterprise learning sequence. This way they can use all of the skills mentioned above, as well as things like cost and profit and whether any modificatons can be made to improve the products saleability and profit margin.
I have found that using 3D printers can be the beginning of the most exciting enterprise learning project possible.

‘The 3D printed product is the end piece, with the skills developed being part of the journey to achieve this item’

Paul Croft: For years teachers have strived to create interactive learning environments with engaged pupils who are passionate about the content of their education, and 3D printing offers this in abundance. It provides kinesthetic learning opportunities right across the curriculum. From a pupil perspective they have the opportunity to absorb STEM content in a fun and inspiring way whilst developing skills that will ensure employment. By using 3D printing, learners have the opportunity to develop not only design and manufacturing skills but also to express their digital creativity. The pioneering institutions are aligning 3D printing with entrepreneurial and social outreach initiatives enabling ‘soft’ skills to be developed too.

➙3D printers are generally still quite expensive, do the benefits they can bring to teaching and learning justify the costs?

Simon Chandler: We have seen a number of changes in the desktop 3D printer market over the last few years, especially with the introduction of desktop 3D printers which are very cost effective, with excellent printers starting from just £789.00. The benefit of using desktop FDM 3D printers is there are no harsh chemicals in post-processing so they are safe to use in a classroom environment, and they have very low running costs, including replacement materials which start from around £20 for 0.5kg of material (enough to print iPhone cases for a class of 20 students).

Kevin Askew: Machines are currently still quite expensive, yes, but 3D printing is a technology and manufacturing process that is only going to grow. As the process and industry grows, so the cost of the equipment will come down. New manufacturers are emerging constantly, and the increasing competition in the market, as with any new technology, will drive the prices down. In the meantime it’s important for learning establishments to provide the equipment, however basic, to expose their students to this emerging technology.
The price of machines vary greatly. The ideal solution is to speak to a supplier (such as GoPrint3D) who can offer a range of 3D printers and advise on the right machine within budget.

Jason Budge: The costs are far outweighed by benefits it brings to teaching and learning. The fact is that in subjects like art and design, children can learn to design more effectively by actually being able to use software like Sketch to bring their designs to life. For the first time they are actually able to quickly create working prototypes and feed this back into their own learning and understanding – areas which are often too abstract and far removed from the classroom for children to gain any real understanding.
Just this real-world learning justifies their price. However, I would add to this the pride and engagement the children feel in their work. Not to mention the ability for us teachers to use them to create completely personalised resources that we could not do otherwise.

Paul Croft: To be honest I think this is a bit of a misconception. Desktop 3D printers are now comparable in price with a decent laptop and the world of opportunities they offer is considerably more exciting for learners. Never before have learners been able to have concepts become tangible and been able to bring their theoretical understanding into the physical world. The testimonials and case studies we have point to not only considerable benefits to learning and development for motivated students but also the power of 3D printing to re-engage pupils otherwise lost in the system. This offers a win-win for teachers and the resultant spike in their motivation creates a virtuous cycle that leads to more inspiring and interactive classrooms. 

‘The costs are far outweighed by benefits it brings to teaching and learning’

➙Once a school has decided to invest in a 3D printer, what would you suggest as an effective way of introducing it to staff and students? 

Simon Chandler: The first thing to do is to get some advice from someone who really knows what they’re talking about. It’s very easy to browse the internet and try and compare statistics like ‘layer height’ and ‘microns’ but this is not a representative gauge on which to judge technology.
As independent specialists, our team of engineers use the printers daily so we know them inside out. We have a variety of training and installation options, starting from £99 for an hour’s phone/video training to get the basics, through to in-depth installation and training programmes, whereby our trainer comes to your school to train as many members of staff as will be using them.

Kevin Askew: One of the biggest barriers to introducing 3D printing is the training and support of teaching staff. Teachers already have a large number of things to concentrate on from curriculum changes to new pupils and other technologies in the classroom. The key is to use software that teachers are already comfortable with and then gradually progress the designs that the pupils and teachers are more confident with. Supporting the teacher or technicians with real people on the phone is very important. At GoPrint3D we have the machines on site, with fully trained staff on hand at all times. We can walk people through the units and the software if they are having trouble, support is never far away, enhanced support is also offered during the learning curve.  Training options when purchasing a unit are available; this is a very effective tool and does help people feel comfortable.  

Jason Budge: My one recommendation for this is to introduce it to the kids first. If you can get them onside, you are pretty certain you can then get the staff to see the benefits with the children acting as your ambassadors. I would also suggest using it in Art or DT and link it to what children already know. For instance, if they are used to making pictures and designs in Sketch; it is not a big step to them show them how this can be linked to 3D printing and the benefits it gives. I would get them then to work on creating a bunch of artefacts related to a school topic, or personalised resources for the school itself. Something like three-dimensional badges for prefects or digital leaders.

Once the children feel confident in using this technology I would begin to identify and use my ‘digital leaders’ to help other teachers establish its use in their classrooms. I would make sure that this included a range of projects that enhanced its use in different subject areas; giving the digital leaders a chance to practice before becoming the expert for the teacher in question.

Following this, I would put in place an INSET/staff meeting to discuss how they found it and how it might be improved in future. I would then pass this on to the digital leaders to help them support me and other teachers during an initial trial phase. Using the most confident/positive teachers first, using the DLs to widen it out as we continue. To ensure that it is as successful as possible I would also provide a full range of projects for all subject areas, as well as teaching guides, to enable them to be supported through the year. Bearing in mind the presence of a digital leader is only a classroom away. 

Paul Croft: We believe that the technology is user-friendly enough and the pupils’ enthusiasm is sufficient to eradicate some of the integration challenges associated with other tech. Despite this belief we started the CREATE Education project to make sure everybody had access to the resources they needed to capitalise on this revolutionary opportunity.

➙Can you recommend any resources or training programmes which could help schools and teachers to understand and use a 3D printer? 

Simon Chandler: Talk to us! We can share our experiences having worked with a large number of educational institutes. There’s also our training programmes that we would highly recommend as we talk through suggested uses and activities. As part of a strong local community, we’d also recommend speaking to neighbouring schools to see what they are doing. For example, we are a partner of the Reading UTC who are developing a 3D printing hub that local schools can also use as a resource.

Other resources are also being specifically developed for schools, e.g. Autodesk for Education and Sketch Up which offer free CAD programmes and file repositories such as www.thingiverse.com and www.youmagine.com for free 3D models and new companies such as www.icanmake.co who are developing models for specific use at primary education level. More will continue to come!

Kevin Askew: As 3D printing specialists, GoPrint3D offer hands-on training courses both on the units and the software as well as ongoing support to the school. There are a range of resources available but one of the most beneficial resources are peoples’ contemporaries: there are a number of teachers on social media who are great advocates of 3D printing and the pedagogy surrounding it. A number of organisations are setting up training courses for teachers wanting to effectively use 3D printing and we are working with these. 

Jason Budge: Just as I was first introduced to 3D printing, I would recommend nothing shorter than finding and getting in touch with other schools where they are being used regularly and successfully.
I would then suggest that they visit this school to talk to staff and pupils about its use and their own experiences. I find this to be the most effective form of training as everyone speaks the same language, will not try to sell you something and, more often than not, provide you with a whole range of tried and tested resources that you can then use back at your own establishment.

Paul Croft: We are consolidating many of the best resources via our collaborative platform CREATE Education. This was designed in conjunction with teachers and unites best practice blogs from existing users, lesson plans, schemes of work, top tips for design/printing and invites people to become part of the community network. We are passionate about sharing and making the technology accessible to all from primary to university level. 

‘As part of a strong local community, we’d also recommend speaking to neighbouring schools to see what they are doing’

➙Will 3D printing continue to grow in education – and will these machines be a classroom staple in the months to come?

Simon Chandler: Absolutely! Like you might currently have a dedicated IT room with computers and laptops, you are likely to have a 3D printing farm with a range of differing capabilities in the forms of different 3D printers. For higher education institutes, they are likely to develop ‘labs’ or ‘libraries’ with a range of 3D printers that students can access to develop their own projects, as well as 3D printers located within specific departments. 

Kevin Askew: 3D printing is still an underestimated resource in some sectors of education, part of this is cost and part of this is the unknown. There is a long way to go in order for the technology to truly be considered mainstream. Yes, I do believe that it is going to grow in education and the more schools that adopt it the better the pedagogy. It will find its level but it needs people to share best practice and then it will experience accelerated growth. We have had the technology described to us as a “solution waiting for a problem” and it is commonly referred to as the “new industrial revolution”. If we start solving the problems with the teachers and pupils that can make a difference. 

Jason Budge: There is no doubt that over time, as costs reduce and teachers become more confident in their use, that 3D printers will grow in use across education – with primary being as big a user as secondary and tertiary institutions. I think before they become a real staple in schools they will become more common at home and that too will drive their use, just like iPads. But, one day, in a few years from now I can see them having to become a staple if we are to reflect the world the children live in and provide them with the knowledge, skills and problem-solving they will need to take part in it meaningfully. 

‘Some institutions are already talking about having printers in every classroom and using them to inspire cross-curricular learning’

Paul Croft: Unquestionably yes! Some institutions are already talking about having printers in every classroom and using them to inspire cross-curricular learning.  How else can modern pupils get their hands on bones taken from MRI scans or hold a DNA helix? How else can pupils touch and inspect historical artifacts stored in museums or learn about scale, volume and axis in a fun way? That’s without mentioning the empowering ability for learners to make their own ideas become reality and familiarising themselves with prototyping as part of a manufacturing process! We don’t like to commit to timeframes on such matters but people said that computers wouldn’t be widespread and I’m sure the doubters of 3D printing will end up feeling the same as the people who didn’t embrace the computing revolution!

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