Expert insight with Paul Croft: 3D printing

Charley Rogers catches up with The CREATE Education Project’s Paul Croft to find out where it sits within the education landscape and where it’s going

In terms of education, what are the main benefits of 3D printing?

You only need to put a 3D printer in front of a young person for the first time to see the potential benefits – their eyes light up and even the most disaffected students are instantly engaged. 3D printing can be introduced and embedded across the school at all levels and in multiple subject areas as a tool to increase pupil engagement and attainment and bring the curriculum to life. 3D printing helps students to visualise new concepts and allows them to turn their ideas into reality, enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills. It also provides them a range of practical skills required across a multitude of industries, increasing students’ future employability.

For many, the term 3D printing immediately conjures images of ‘techy’ subjects like engineering. How else can it be utilised across the curriculum?

3D printing can benefit almost every curriculum area, for example, 3D printed anatomical models in science help students to enhance their understanding of the human body, bring history into the classroom by 3D printing artefacts from museum scans, geographical features for geography, and maths manipulatives to help students to understand mathematical concepts. Students can design and 3D print sculptures or jewellery in art, or design and print cookie cutters and moulds to make custom biscuits and cakes, then run a business enterprise project to raise money for the school or a charity. The applications are endless. But let’s not ignore the benefits of 3D printing in STEM education; if this technology can engage more students and girls in particular in STEM subjects, then perhaps being ‘techy’ would not be quite such an ugly word!

Paul Croft

What advice would you give to schools who are considering 3D printing investments? What’s the most important consideration?

Don’t be driven purely by price; reliability is an important consideration when selecting 3D printers. Printers designed for industrial applications are going to be a better long-term investment as they will withstand the rigour of classroom use. Schools should also consider the availability of free classroom and technical support, professional development and ease of use. For schools who are unsure, the CREATE Education Project provide a free 3D printer loan scheme, where schools can borrow a printer for a month to trial it before making a purchasing decision. At the end of the month the printer can simply be returned with no obligation to buy.

Where do you see 3D printing fitting in to the UK’s education landscape going forward? 

The growth of 3D-printing-related jobs across all industries is set to expand dramatically in the next 5-10 years. Our education system needs to start equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and aspirations now, to meet this growing demand if the UK hopes to compete on an international stage. 

Going forward, we envisage a 3D printer sitting in every primary classroom, allowing for the technology to be fully embedded across the curriculum and enabling students to develop 3D CAD skills before entering secondary school. Secondary schools would be equipped with multiple 3D printers in technology workshops and computing labs alongside stand-alone printers in various other subject bases. 

Ultimately, specific qualifications in Additive Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 would also need to be developed for KS4 and beyond, then implemented in schools to provide a solid foundation and progression route into roles within the various industries to avoid a skills shortage in the future. 

The CREATE Education Project