Students making a rocketship

Setting students up for success with 3D printing

Failure is good for innovation. That’s certainly the culture adopted by many businesses today – fail fast, learn fast, iterate. But should we also be teaching young people these agile skills? And how can 3D printing help students acquire them?

For many students, the fear of failure can be intimidating. From exams to making friends, there is a lot for a learner to find stressful – and a very real risk that anxiety can stop them from achieving.

So how can educators help prevent this? By setting their students up to succeed. Teaching learners that it’s OK to make mistakes is crucial in developing confidence and learning new skills. In today’s world of ever-evolving technology, something that can help instill this belief is encouraging students to learn more about the potential of 3D printing.

Students designing for 3D printing

How can 3D printing help?

“What [3D printing] teaches the students is not to be afraid of making mistakes,” says Rob Jones, a teacher at Cowley International College, UK, who uses 3D printing in his lessons. “Sometimes students are afraid that if they don’t produce something that is perfect the first time, that that’s a problem. And really it’s not at all because quite often you learn from your mistakes.”

A seventh grade teacher in the Netherlands, Freek van Iersel, agrees: “Every device around us was once tested by someone, has failed, and has been improved again. That’s a great learning experience for the students to have.”

Aside from instilling confidence, 3D printing also develops a variety of other talents. “When designing in 3D, kids use mathematics, insights in 3D techniques, and all kinds of other skills that are useful for their future,” says Robin Platjouw, ICT co-ordinator and teacher at Het Slingertouw in the Netherlands.

“We try to encourage them not to just look at one part, but at how several parts can fit together,” says Rob Jones. “It interests students with mathematical skills, with scientific skills, but also creative skills for all ages and all genders.”

Students working in Ultimaker Cura

Introducing 3D printing to the classroom

Today there is an entire online community dedicated to bringing 3D printing into the classroom. Teachers who want to get started can find countless resources in a few clicks – from lesson plans to design projects. The CREATE Education Project, an initiative of 3DGBIRE, provides free resources and support to help educators to introduce and embed 3D printing technology in the classroom.

Director of Instructional Technology at The Out-Of-Door Academy, USA Joanne Barrett discovered how to integrate 3D printing into her school’s world history curriculum by letting students print Minoan and Mycenaean monuments.  

For this project, students are encouraged to find existing STL files or to look for models that they feel represent their structure. The prints are later pinned to a world map. “The students enjoyed seeing their work posted and ‘come to life’ on the map,” says Joanne.

Learning about 3D printing is also something teachers and students can embark on together. From which printer to choose to what materials are more suitable; from designing for 3D printing to reiterating models. Researching and collaborating with students teaches them that it’s normal to be apprehensive and how to work through that. It also shows them where to find reliable information and how to grow their own skills through independent research.

3D prints

Looking forward to the future

Children who are introduced to 3D printing early on will reap the benefits for many years to come. Aside for learning various practical skills, such as an understanding of geometry and design, they also learn how to look for solutions. Reiterating is a large part of 3D printing, encouraging users to explore alternatives and rework problems.

What’s exciting is that this guarantees that the minds of tomorrow are better equipped to tackle the challenges that face our society today. Their understanding of problem solving will be crucial in changing the way we interact with the world. And as these young minds start to enter the workforce, they’ll enjoy the benefit of confidence when approaching new technologies.

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