3D Printing the Future

One of the most provocative things I was told was to “sell your Smartboards, and buy 3D printers!” (Richard Byrne at the ECOO conference keynote address), and I’ve been exploring this idea ever since…big time! Reading, researching, attending the Toronto Maker-Faire, and visiting MakeLab in Toronto. I’ve discovered some incredible things about 3D printing:

1) The Royal Mail service in Britain is starting to use it to make themselves more relevant
2) The Smithsonian used 3D printing to make a bust of Obama
3) The National Museum in Britain lets you 3D print its artifacts

Tom Kale, from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said of Obama’s 3D bust:

“This is part of a broader trend going on, and that is the third industrial revolution. It’s the combination of the physical world and the digital world allowing students and entrepreneurs to go from idea to prototype in the blink of an eye.”

I have begun to believe that this is true. While there is still a time and place for effective use of Smartboards in the classroom, I am beginning to shirt to a different solution – one of many in a classroom of the future. That solution would be to have a 3D printer available to teachers and students.


Not only is a 3D printer something that students can use to demonstrate their learning, it is something that students can use to learn about their learning, and deepen it. They can study it as a device itself, using math to determine cost and time of printing. Students can use it to bring their prototypes to life. However, recalling our work on TPAC with Cohort 21, it is important to apply a framework. I am tempted to just go with TC – let’s get students printing! Let’s get them excited about learning in this new way! This approach has its own merits for sure.

The 3rd Industrial Revolution: going from idea to prototype and testing immediately

However, what I am looking at now is PK, pedagogical knowledge. How can we use a 3D printer to shift the way learning happens in the classroom? I think that once the learning is happening around the concept of CREATION, then students are put into a position of inquiry, evaluation and deeper learning.
– Geography: students will design a topographical map, critic them as a class, evaluate them, and hold a vote to see which one gets printed
– Math: Student can design an object using different shapes and print them out and use them as manipulatives
– Social Science: print a mask of a famous Canadian, and curate an exhibit around that person

I think that the possibilities of pedagogical shift are exciting. 3D printers have the potential to revolutionize the libraries and classrooms of today & tomorrow. Derek Quenville of TechKnight says:

[3D printing] is gaining popularity and it has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and the way we access tools. It’s also seen as a necessary digital skill for kids today…

What is most exciting is that Stratasys has just launched an entire 3D printing curriculum. It is available for download HERE. I know that many schools have 3D printers now, and I’d love to hear more about how they are being used, and how they are integrated into the curriculum. If you know of anyone using a 3D printer in this way, please put me in touch!

8 thoughts on “3D Printing the Future

  1. hi Garth,
    Very interesting thoughts. I think that 3D printers are one of the best tools around for providing transformative experiences with technology integration. The idea of printing topographic maps is a good one and there is 3D analyst software for GIS to allow for the creation of models. Our grade 8 classes most recently used the 3D printer to make molds for cement boats (they are studying properties). Previously they had to fashion a mold from cutting out pop bottles! Needless to say, those that used the 3D printer were able to create boats that float. Jenny

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Thanks for the comment! I really like the idea of using a 3D printer to experiment with different methods, properties, etc… It would be great to have some of your 3D printing student experts join a Google Hangout to help us get off the ground! Would you be up for that?

      You should also check out @erinorourke comment.

  2. I agree with Cal’s tweet…I don’t think a 3D printer can replace a SmartBoard as an accessible piece of technology in the classroom.

    Branksome has a 3D printer that is constantly humming with prints from our students. Last year, the Grade 9 Visual Arts classes did a 3D printing unit as part of their TGJ design unit. Once class focussed on jewellery design.

    Another way to approach 3D printing is with a sustainability lens. It would be interesting to explore how small-scale on-demand manufacturing helps eliminate waste and carbon emissions.

    3D printers are awesome…but they are new technology. They aren’t fool-proof yet, and are not for the weak-of-heart teacher using technology. If you can keep an open mind that for every design you print, perhaps 10 will fail and print into a blob, then that is half your battle. I have seen teachers be very keen about using it, and then when it came to the troubleshooting and frustration with printing, they were turned off. If we can instill in our students that this is all part of the design process right from the beginning, then it’s a valuable lesson. Think about how many prototypes Apple had for the iPad before manufacturing!

    David Hann is also a great teacher to follow (if you aren’t already)- he does ALOT of 3D printing in his classes and I was at his presentation at ECOO this year. Follow him @TeacherHann

    1. I believe I was in that same session at ECOO! Already following for sure! I also really appreciate your comment about failure- 1 in 10 eh?! Thanks for all the great suggestions. I’d be interested in talking more about the TGJ opportunities, as right now we are positioning the 3D printer in the Grade 6-8 panel. Oh, and also check out @jennywright

  3. Great blog, Garth.

    I came across a great quote at a conference last week – “You are the architect of possible”. In my view 3D printing is a tool that can bring ideas to the reality. There can’t be a better place than a school to have a 3D printer where students can apply their most radical and creative ideas and see those ideas forming shapes in front of their eyes. The enthusiasm of ideas coming to life can make students explore new horizons and bring out problem solving. Applications are endless; a math enthusiast might create a 3D model of Pi or Prime Numbers and an art enthusiast might paint next masterpiece with 3D printer. It would be exiting to have a 3D printer at Bayview Glen and in turn enable our students and staff to be “architect of possible”.

  4. I have been encouraging our school to invest in a 3D printer. I haven’t yet been able to come up with any ways we could use one in an English class, but I’m working on it….

  5. Wow, what an amazing post! This definitely blew me away. I remember you talking about it at our 2nd face to face, maybe even our 1st. At any rate, it’s clear that #BVGlearns is off and running! Our director of IT is keenly interested in 3D printing as well and it’s so exciting that there is a curriculum offered already.

    As with all tech, there are good and poor uses of it. It’s great that you highlighted the pedagogical knowledge from TPACK, because without it, it’s just TACK…y.

    The layout and manner in which you wrote this blog is a great example for the rest of the C21 crew. Thanks for the inspiring and thought provoking post. I am going to share this with our Leadership Team!

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