3D printing is a decades old technology, but it’s just now receiving buzz in K-12 education. As 3D printing evolves and the price continues to come down, investing in this technology has become less cost prohibitive than it once was. Until recently, a school could expect to pay around $10,000 for one 3D printer. That price has come down significantly and today there are products on the market for around $3,000.
In many ways, 3D printing is a natural fit for education, especially in today’s climate where Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and innovation, but with all of the new technologies out there is it really a viable option for K-12? Does it represent a smart technology investment compared to the dozens of products on the market? The New Media Consortium (NMC) seems to think so.
“The most important thing to consider when thinking about which new technologies to invest in is there has to be a reason. There has to be supporting pedagogical shifts behind it and right now, we’re seeing schools trying to tackle creating more authentic learning opportunities. More hands-on, immersive experiences where students are learning by doing and 3D printing really does support that,” says Samantha Becker, senior director of Communications, NMC, an international community of experts in education technology.
Every year, NMC produces its Horizon Report, which analyzes trends in education technology as well as barriers and challenges to adopting those trends. 3D printing first appeared in the Horizon report in 2004, but then remained conspicuously absent until 2013.
“We’ve been talking about this technology for some time. It was always on the list of things we were tracking,” Becker says. “I think the reason it’s really made a resurgence and is primed and ready is because it’s more affordable than ever.”
3D Printing in the Classroom
Educators are finding unique ways to implement 3D printing in the classroom, outside of the traditional STEM subjects.
“You would expect to see it in places like drafting and design and that’s where we sold many of the first machines. However, it quickly moved out of there. It spread like wildfire in terms of word getting out that this is really interesting stuff,” says Larry Lytle, CSO, Engaging Solutions, a consulting firm headquartered in Katy, Texas.
3D printing is now being used to enhance lessons in all areas of academics including history and the arts. For example, Clover High School in Virginia used the technology to create Civil War era objects like pipes and curlers.
“These are items that would definitely be behind velvet ropes in museums. They would never have the opportunity to touch or hold them,” Becker says. Having the physical reproductions of those items created a one-of-kind tactile learning experience for those history students.