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.

Launching the Digital Hub Strategy: Fall 2017

Students in the Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa will be expected, for the first time this fall, to create a professional website that documents their development as teachers. Faculty members have piloted this project over the past couple of years and in the spring of 2017, we gathered some survey data from graduating students who created professional digital websites in courses and as part of cohort-based initiatives that has helped us to develop a guiding framework for the launch of this project program-wide. Here are some key take-aways from that survey.

  • Students tended to think of their digital hubs as an online CV rather than a digital identity text, or as a space for developing new understandings of themselves as teachers through curation, reflection and revision.
  • Students wanted more explicit direction from the program about what to include — at least at first.
  • Students who created a website did it because they had to as part of a course or because the program was expecting it of them in some way.
  • Students told us that, at first, they did not have the technical skill set required for the development of a professional digital hub. Many said they struggled to acquire these skills as they were also learning how to teach.
  • Students told us that they needed more support around issues of identity management, privacy and how to ethically and responsibly share their work and their students’ work on the open Internet.

Students entering our program this year will learn, at Orientation, about the Hub, its purpose, and the rationale driving our programmatic choice to integrate it as part of their professional preparation program. Broadly, we see the Digital Hub as one way for teacher candidates to develop foundational professional digital literacies skills while also curating a set of documents that reflect their emerging skills, values and competencies as teachers and teacher researchers.

Information about the Digital Hub initiative can be found at

This site is for students, but also for Faculty members looking for tips, strategies and resources to support their students’ emergence as digitally literate professionals.