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Using a 3D printer in your classroom

New York Teacher

In recent years, 3D printers and all the magical things they can create have attracted considerable attention. You may be curious about how to integrate one in your classroom. But aren’t they expensive, difficult to learn to operate and only for the most tech-savvy teachers? The answer is no, at least not anymore.

Just like any new technology, the price starts sky-high and then plummets. Now, instead of thousands of dollars, we’re talking hundreds of dollars for a consumer 3D printer. Since 3D printing is a hot topic in education, there are many resources and workshops in the city to help you.

First, seek out professional development. Consider signing up for a workshop on 3D printing that can provide an overview of the steps you need to take to get started. Among the many offerings, TEQ is offering free workshops on 3D printing this year for New York City teachers. See upcoming dates. Look as well for local Maker groups to join or to see an exhibition of products.

Then, decide how you will use a 3D printer with your students. First, come up with a teaching rationale or curriculum unit; having a plan may convince your principal or a funder that you will put the technology to good use. Luckily, there are many ways to integrate 3D printers into the classroom for all grade levels and subject areas. While math and science ideas may abound, you can also use 3D models in social studies, for example, by asking students to make items that can help solve problems they study around the world. In English language arts, to give another example, students can design an original model and then write about the rationale for its creation. In health class, students can create new products to solve nutrition dilemmas. Edutopia, which frequently publishes articles on 3D printing, offers some more classroom ideas.

Finally, you’ll want to explore the actual hardware and software needed. There are many different types and prices of 3D printers on the market. Consider your budget and the features you need, and check that the vendor is approved by the city Department of Education. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) publishes a 3D printer buyer’s guide. Talk with your principal about the possibility of purchasing a printer and be sure to detail what objects your students will create. If there is no money in the school budget, look for grant opportunities, which are plentiful for STEM projects. Donors Choose is also a good outlet for funding. Many 3D printer manufacturers provide handy grant resources, like Brooklyn-based MakerBot, so check their web pages as well. There are many choices for 3D maker software, but it’s a good idea to stick with proven programs when you are starting out. SketchUp, a free program, is popular and Tinkercad, also free, is easy to learn. Like printing companies, many software makers include free resources for educators and online communities.

Three-D printing may be ambitious, but teachers have more sources for support than ever before, so now may be a good time to set your ideas in motion.