At Sabine Pass Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, teachers used a 3D printer to create dinosaur bones that students then had to put together to build a T-Rex.
“I think 3D printing is going to be an industry changer,” says Mark Simmons, director of Technology at Sabine Pass ISD. “Essentially we can all be creators. That’s a big focus in education today. We want to keep pushing creation and innovation in students.”
Simmons is a big proponent of 3D printing. He’s been using the technology since 2012 and now even conducts workshops for educators. However, Simmons isn’t naive to the challenges of implementing this newly popular technology. Two years ago, when Simmons first bought a 3D printer he was working at a different school district, Colmesneil ISD.
“When I bought it we were one of the first. There were no lesson plans at all. There was no support for how to use it in school, so we had to start writing our own lesson plans,” Simmons says.
That challenge remains much the same today. Traditional school curriculum does not call for a 3D printer. There is no guideline to follow for how one might be implemented. Educators have to actively look for ways 3D printing can supplement their lessons and that takes a little bit of creativity.
“If you haven’t done a great job with making this work with your curriculum, and all you are having the kids do is print out things, well, that’s fun and to some degree that’s instructional, but it isn’t getting the greatest impact out of the technology,” Lytle says.
Levels of 3D Printing
There are levels of 3D printing design software. You wouldn’t use the same software in a kindergarten class as you would in a high school engineering course. At Sabine Pass, elementary school teachers use TinkerCAD software with their printers. It provides pre-designed shapes and objects for teachers to choose from that they can then drag and drop or resize. This beginner level software provides teachers with a basic understanding of how a 3D AutoCAD program works. As they get more comfortable, they can progress to more advanced versions of design software.
“It’s extremely easy in that sense,” says Simmons. “And because STL is the standard file for 3D printing we don’t have compatibility issues.”
As with any technology initiative, adequate professional development leads to a successful implementation. You can’t just buy a 3D printer and hope for the best. You need to invest in training.
“Professional development is key,” Becker says. “In order for students to learn how to leverage the technology successfully, teachers and staff need to understand not only how to use it, but they need to be able to see how it fits in with their curriculum design so it doesn’t feel like just a new tool being thrown at them.”