Many of us may have heard the story of how Derby the dog, who was born with no front paws and deformed legs, was given a new lease on life after a 3D Printing company provided him with a set of prosthetics that enabled him to not only start to walk, but run for miles at a time. It’s hard to believe that we now possess the technology to reproduce car parts, tools and replica art in the comforts of our own homes.

As educators, we push the boundaries of the classroom, engaging students in new, exciting ways while providing a curriculum with depth, context and understanding. There is little more satisfaction for a teacher or a student than when you get that WOW factor. Emerging technologies play a significant part in this goal, giving students the opportunity to travel to other parts of the globe in a virtual world with Virtual Reality or engage with online learning using wearable technology.

One of the big buzz terms at the minute is 3D Printing. There are a number of options being made available, including the ability to print biological materials and even food materials such as confectionary. Most common in schools are a range of printers that use PLA or ABS plastics, which keep running costs reasonably low. For the more “green-minded” among us, you could try a printer that uses layers of paper to build models.

3D Printing can be adapted for a range of subjects, lending itself nicely as a tool for supporting a STEAM curriculum. Students can design parts of the human anatomy for Biology, replicate molecules for Chemistry, develop a range of fossils for Geography, or create objects to be promoted in a Business Enterprise challenge. You could introduce a competition to design and print the most effective balloon-powered vehicle, challenging the engineering skills of your students. The development of a 3D model requires skills from a range of disciplines including Mathematics, Physics, ICT and Design Technology.

Previously, students have been able to work through the product design cycle up to a point. They started at the design stage and developed a range of digital prototypes before ending up with a final model that can be evaluated on screen. 3D printing takes this one step further, as students are now able to print a complete digital model of a prototype, creating a physical object that can be critically analysed on a more advanced level.

There are a number of online tutorials to get you started. Free online modelling websites are available that use simple shapes to create products, easing the students into the concept of 3D modelling without needing to know the more powerful, industry standard software. There is also a range of websites offering free 3D digital designs for download and print. These will get you started quickly if you simply want an end product and are not concerned with developing the designs.

Place the printer in a public area such as a corridor in the school. You will be amazed at how many students stop to watch and admire the printing taking place. It will invite interest and is a starting point for conversations about design methodologies, prototyping and problem solving. Take it beyond lessons and introduce a 3D modelling club. The key is to make the technology available to all students, at any time. Encourage students to develop designs in their own time and offer opportunities for them to access the printer at break times or after school.

By Malachy McGrogan

Malachy is a teacher at Dubai English Speaking College. An enthusiast for everything tech, he enjoys engaging and challenging students through the use of new and emerging technologies. Drones, 3d printing, Minecraft, and Raspberry Pi’s are some of the tools that he uses to teach.