Getting Started with 3D Printing – Forward

My Outlook on Life and Teaching

ponderingI started teaching in 2000. During my time in the classroom I’ve become more and more convinced that a lot of what we do in education is wrong. We tend to see content as the only thing we need to think about even when we know students won’t remember that content into the future. Don’t believe me? Can you tell me what all the numbers on a periodic table represent? Can you conjugate a verb? Or maybe explain all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights? I’m guessing you can’t and your students won’t be able to when they get to college either. Yet we as teachers still tend to believe our content is important to their future success.

For me I’ve come around to a different viewpoint. Content is a vehicle I can use to help students build skills related to thinking, analysis, and creativity. These skills can be grown over time and they won’t go away and will help them be better citizens in the future. As much as I love physics, I know most of the students I’ve taught will never need to determine the time a projectile launched at 42° will take to hit the ground. It’s not about the specific content, but more about the methods and patterns of thought that are important. The process of problem solving is the important factor, not the final answer.

With this in mind I started doing more project based learning. These have included building catapults, musical instruments, cell phone accessories and wind turbine blades. Previously I’d been afraid of losing the teaching time, but now I know I am not. I may have covered less of the “required” standards, but in the end I know my students have a better chance of being able to think and solve problems, ultimately being better prepared for college or whatever other path they choose in life.

The main question I always circle back around to is, “What are my students doing?” If the answer to that involves listing to me and copying down notes, then I feel I’ve failed. During note taking what are they doing? In the words of Harvard Professor Eric Mazur, “Lecture is the process of transferring the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student without going through the brain of either.” I try not to lecture as much as I can. I want to get the students working and building knowledge for themselves. My job, then, is to set up opportunities for them to do so.

My Experience in 3D Printing

I was lucky enough to get a first generation MakerBot Replicator for my classroom several years ago. At the time it was one of, if not the only fully assembled 3D printer available on the market. When I got it I had no solid educational justification for it. This is the sort of thing people always council against when considering purchases for schools. I had the sense that it was just something really cool to make available to my students and that reasons for it would arise over time.

The technology was so new that even if it only served to excite students about engineering it would have been a good investment. So far, in my school, 3D printing has been used for a couple projects in physics class, a few science fair experiments, parts of numerous final projects in electronics, and to make parts for our competition robots. I’d hoped students would use the 3D printer for more independent projects, but this hasn’t happened as of yet.

I’ve since added a second 3D printer to the school, a WANHAO Duplicator i3. This time I have a purpose for this second printer. With two printers I feel much more confident relying on 3D printing with students. One of the things I’ve found is that 3D printing is often a bit finicky. I’ve come to think of both of my printers as beta products (more on this in the next chapter). With two printers, one can be down for repairs while the other can help the curriculum move along.