Design Ideas for Integrating 3D Printing in K-12 Classrooms

I teach a course at the University of Ottawa called Integrating Technology in Classrooms to second-year teacher candidates. At this point in the program, our candidates have completed months of evaluated practicum teaching experiences in schools, and have seen a lot of digital technologies used in classrooms for diverse purposes. So far, however, it has been quite rare for students to have seen 3D printers in use in their practicum classrooms — which is why I make sure they have a chance to think deeply about the pedagogical possibilities of this technology before they graduate. The 2017 Horizon Report suggests that 3D printers and Makerspaces are becoming mainstream in K-12 schools.

We’ve been lucky, in this class to be able to learn to design 3D objects and print them at the Richard Labbé Makerspace in the Faculty of Engineering. The workshop is always taught by a student engineer and many Education students appreciate the chance to work in a space that is very different from the spaces where they usually work (i.e, classrooms, libraries, coffee shops). As the students design their objects, the conversation turns to pedagogical integrations, applications, aspirations. Here is a list of some of the great ideas we have discussed in our class for projects that integrate 3D design and printing with curriculum expectations.

Project Ideas

  • Identify a real-life problem in the school, that could be solved with the design of some component, and then make it (e.g., do you need hooks to hang up jackets? do you need storage bins for supplies? could you fix something that broke? do you need doorstops?)
  • Design projects that require students to each create a component that, when put together, will have a larger purpose and deep connections to a disciplinary concept. Some ideas that students have come up with: Design a game and every person in the group makes a game piece; design a town – the town in which the children live, the town from a book they’re reading, a town that includes all of the things that families need to be healthy and happy — and every student designs a building; design parts of a complex system that can be 3D printed and put together as a group — e.g., a cell, an ecosystem, a clock.
  • Design replicas of material artefacts that are connected, in some way, to human activity, or to an historical period. These projects can enable students to empathize with the humans who might have designed these objects in the past, and help students to develop an embodied understanding of human motivations, activities, interests, needs and the design constraints of particular materials, contexts and tools. Further, teachers can invite students to think like archaeologists and historians by having them observe sets of artefacts and abstract key ideas or construct inferences about the ways the artefacts could be used, and therefore about their cultural significance.
  • In math, design shapes. Manipulate dimensions — width, length, height. Write about what happens when dimensions change.
  • In music, design and create instruments. Manipulate dimensions and consider how this changes the sounds the instruments make.
  • Design an object that represents a character, the setting, the plot, or a theme in a novel. Students can share their objects with peers, engage in discussions where other students guess the importance of their object, and then write about their design process as a way to make their thinking and understandings explicit.
  • Create a sense of community by inviting each child to design and print a nameplate for their desk, locker, for a wall of names in your classroom.