I began to see 3D printers as the band saws and sewing machines for my students’ generation. Having them available gives our students the opportunity to create original objects, redesign familiar ones, and develop deep problem-solving skills along the way.
But making the tools available isn’t enough. We’ve had a 1:1 program at our school for over 10 years, and we know that having the tools didn’t magically transform teaching and learning. Teachers need to be trained on how the machines work and have a basic understanding around how they can be used to enhance their curriculum in a way that promotes creativity and problem-solving as well as understanding of content. Where to start?
At my school, we’re approaching from two directions. Two innovative upper school teachers have developed a course called “Designing Change” which will combine elements of design thinking with STEM as students work together to solve problems in the community. The 3D printer will be one of many tools used in this process. Our second target is our art department. I’m working with an enthusiastic middle school art teacher to integrate technology in a digital arts strand. Students will be creating original objects with the 3D printer and finishing them in artistic ways. They’ll also create tools for art using the 3D printer – objects to be used to emboss and shape their work in printmaking and ceramics. In doing so, students will begin to understand how pieces they imagine can be designed on computer and become tangible with the help of the 3D printer. Positive side effects – kids are introduced to CAD applications, prototyping process, and basic manufacturing. Because the teachers aren’t experts (as my shop teachers were), everyone learns together and are interdependent. At a bare minimum, we can look at the opportunities to experience this process as one more kind of learning/interaction in which our students are engaged in their day. At best, we’re igniting a contagious spark in both students and faculty for imagining, designing, and creating in ways never before possible.
Speaking of igniting a spark… For the past two weeks that our first 3D printer has been temporarily placed in my office, almost every adult on campus has stopped by, hoping to catch a glimpse of it in action. There’s an energy around a new technology, a natural curiosity. A number of the visitors just stare and watch, but after a few minutes the conversation starts – potential applications, in the classroom and our community abound. My head of school anticipates needing several more in the next couple of years; our second was ordered two days ago. Monday, when faculty are officially back for the new school year, the real fun can start!