Using 3D Printing in the Classroom to Engage Students

Common Core State Standards: 
Model with Mathematics
Use Appropriate Tools Strategically
Instructional Strategies: 
Visual Representations

Once more likely to be found in research institutions and universities, 3D printers are starting to pop up in schools and homes across the country. This new technology has the potential to change the way we teach and learn; from creating models, to designing new products, to building representations of physical objects, 3D printers can help engage students in authentic learning activities.

Mathematics is a subject with tons of potential for using 3D printing in the classroom. Imagine the hands-on learning students could access. Students working on geometry could print three-dimensional models of any shape, or easily designing their own mathematical models or virtual manipulatives.  Building your own models (whether with a 3D printer or lower-tech options) helps students experience math concepts in new ways, differentiating instruction for students who struggle with abstract math concepts.

Another great use for 3D printers is in the natural sciences. What if you could visit a museum website and print out a replica of an ancient artifact, inviting your students to experience and investigate it in an entirely new way? The Smithsonian X 3D Project at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. is working to create blueprints of artifacts, fossils, and bones that are too fragile for students to handle, and is making them publicly available, online. For example, the Smithsonian is creating a blueprint of a Tyrannosaurus skeleton! Using this downloadable blueprint, anyone with a 3D printer will be able to download and print a replica of the T-Rex skeleton. This will enable students to touch, feel, and engage with the “bones”, which would otherwise only be accessible through static images in a textbook.

Learn more about educational applications of 3D printing here: Are 3D Printers the “Next Big Thing” in Education?

Looking for more ideas? Check out Makerbot Thingiverse for cool 3D printing blueprints available online to use in your classroom today. 

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