Over the past decade, the use of 3D printing in education exploded in popularity. While schools quickly jumped on the trend, educators often struggle to use 3D printers as an effective learning tool in the classroom. Fortunately, the 3D printing process incorporates several relevant real-world skills that can be easily emphasized in the classroom.
1. Spatial Reasoning Spatial reasoning, or the ability to think about objects in three dimensions, is a critical skill in fields such as science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. Even though children begin to develop spatial reasoning skills as babies and toddlers, schools rarely emphasize it until after elementary school. Computer-aided design, the step in the 3D printing process when a three-dimensional digital model is created, requires spatial reasoning. For young students or students new to 3D printing, they can begin by designing in a beginner-friendly computer-aided design program such as Tinkercad. Successfully designing an object in Tinkercad requires students to view their design from multiple angles, manipulate simple shapes, and move shapes within an XYZ plane.
2. Fine Motor Skills Fine motor skills, or the coordination of small muscle movements, are important for the completion of everyday and academic tasks. Writing with a pen or pencil, tying shoelaces, flipping the pages of a book, and coloring within the lines are all examples of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills can be emphasized in multiple steps of the 3D printing process including during prototyping, computer-aided design, and post-processing as students build models with their hands, control a mouse or keypad, or paint their 3D printed object.
3. Computer and Technology Literacy The 3D printing process is also an effective way to teach computer and technology literacy skills. The computer-aided design step requires students to use some type of design software where they can practice everything from keyboarding to saving and downloading files. 3D printing itself provides opportunities for students to learn about hardware, operate a machine, follow safety procedures, and oftentimes navigate cloud-based software. Learning the computer and technology literacy skills associated with 3D printing opens the door to career paths including product design, manufacturing, and engineering.
Focusing on the skills above not only enhances the value of 3D printing as a tool for learning but can also provide clarity and a starting point for educators struggling to implement 3D printing in their classroom.