I recently volunteered at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, WA. Some years ago, they got a grant to purchase a $50,000 3D printer, and they use the printer to print 3D models of proteins they study in biology class. That’s actually putting it mildly. They can print the base, the model, color different active clefts of the protein, and they have used their models to place and win at local and national science competitions. But 3D printing is a powerful technology even if you don’t have a $50,000 printer. Makerbot and other companies are now selling lower-cost, simpler versions of this technology, and the results are awesome. Check out Makerbot’s 3D printing in schools page:
How low-cost can these 3D printers be? Sam Cervantes, former COO of Makerbot, recently showed a $500 version he had created. This is now marketed as the Solidoodle 2. $500 is still a drain on many public school science department budgets, but much more amenable to the many small educational development grants around.
I found a neat site (RepRap) detailing many of the current systems and describing the first self-replicating 3D printer. This is value-added for sure! Now if you build or buy one, you can print others for your school as well.
I think 3D printing is awesome in several ways. As well as being completely hypnotic to watch, it is great fun to assemble or build such systems as well as presenting an awesome hands-on learning opportunity. In ways similar to conventional machining skills, 3D printing uses spatial thinking skills, budget and planning skills (read: executive function, great for ADHD students), and design skills. It’s an all-around way to educate students in ways that are critical to industry. In fact, many of the major industries in the US and around the world now use 3D printing regularly. Car companies, aircraft manufacturers, and others rely on 3D printing to make parts for which there never were 3D drawings or for which structural integrity is not critical. I encourage everyone to investigate this for your classrooms. Maybe there are even ways to use these printers outside of science and math curricula? I can imagine 3D printing replicas or historical objects for a history class, or parts for a musical instrument for music class. The possibilities are nearly endless!