More Authentic Learning Made Possible with 3D Printing
3D Printers for Education
A broad shift is taking place in North American education to encourage more authentic learning: the kind of learning that helps students prepare for life after school.
Authentic learning has multiple labels: project-based, problem- based, inquiry learning. But at its heart, a student is given a genuine problem to solve that requires mimicking the work of professionals. Working toward an answer calls for the student to show creativity, collaboration and communication and to gain a deep understanding of both the problem and its possible solutions.
The results, say those who have experience in this type of educational model, far surpass the impact of a typical classroom test. Done well, the learning takes on a self-directed aspect that helps to build student autonomy.
Wide support for Authentic Learning
The idea of authentic learning has wide support. A November 20131 survey by Achieve, an education reform organization, found that a majority of American voters considered high school graduates unprepared to meet the expectations they’ll face as they take their next steps after high school. The same survey reported that an even higher percentage of voters believe that the Common Core State Standards Initiative will transfer the perceived emphasis off “teaching to the test” and on to real-world skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving.
Its little wonder, then, that 3D printing is turning out to be an effective technology for the classroom where students are undertaking real- world learning experiences, since it inspires invention, design and engineering. A recent NMC Horizon Project Technology Outlook for STEM+ Education2 states, “One of the most significant aspects of 3D printing for teaching and learning is that it enables more authentic exploration of objects that may not be readily available to schools.”
The use of a 3D printer gives students the ability to hold the output of their work. That simple act can turn the disciplines they’re learning — design and prototyping — into something real and authentic.
Impact of Design
A group of STEM pioneers opened up STARBASE Minnesota in 1993 to help fourth- through sixth-grade students in Minneapolis and St. Paul get a new take on math and science. This program was one of more than 70 all over the country funded primarily by the Department of Defense with the same goal: to give students the chance to see how those subjects help plan a mission to Mars, which includes building and launching model rockets. The curriculum is aligned with national and state standards.
Up until 2007, the kids could design models of rocket components on computers, but all they were left with was an ordinary two- dimensional printout of their design. Then the DOD stepped in and supplied STARBASE sites with Dimension® 3D Printers.
The site in Minnesota, co-sponsored by the Minnesota National Guard, puts fourth- through sixth-graders through a five-day, 20-hour experience. First, says instructor Christina Johnson, the kids “learn about the science behind the fins and test different rocket parts throughout the week using the wind tunnel and air rockets.” Next they use CAD software to design their own rocket fins, which are printed on a Dimension 3D Printer and attached to rockets on the final day of the program. Then the students get to head outside for the launch.
After launching their rockets, the students collect data about where the rockets land and discuss the results to conclude how fin design affects a rocket’s path — just as real engineers would.
Engineering made real for students
Peter Grimm, an industrial technology teacher at Southview Middle School in Edina, Minn., pursued funding for his district’s first 3D printer, which the school shares with another middle school in the district.
Grimm had used Dimension 3D Printers at a previous school. There, he had teamed up with Project Lead the Way (PLTW) 4, a national organization that provides STEM programs to schools, including professional development, curriculum and partnerships with the private sector.
He continued that partnership at Southview, and because he was familiar with the “cost, ease of use and durability,” of the Dimension 3D Printer, he felt the the uPrint® 3D Printer would be the right fit for the new programs he planned to implement.
Now the use of 3D printing has become part of STEM classes in seventh and eighth grade, including “Design & Modeling” and “Automation & Robotics” for seventh graders, and “Flight & Space” and “Magic of Electrons” for eighth graders.
The 3D printer allows instructors to more consistently match the student’s design specifications and generate a model that is to their exact standards.” To help them appreciate just how far the fields of engineering and manufacturing have advanced, he shows them a video that describes old machine shop techniques.”
The uPrint, says Grimm, “has really helped bring kids into the engineering lab … They’re able to see their CAD drawings become three-dimensional working models. It quickly brings designs that only existed in the students’ minds to life.”