Bridging the gap between theory and practice, 3D printing has revolutionised the classroom; enabling children to bring the two-dimensional ideas scribbled in their notebook to life in a 3D format. The once ‘inaccessible’ technology is now being installed
“THE ERUPTION OF 3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY IS OFTEN LIKENED TO THE INTRODUCTION OF COMPUTING SCHOOLS IN THE LATE 80S [AND] EARLY 90S.”
REWIND the clock back 50 years and the Australian job market looked considerably different.
Technology has disrupted our whole way of processing things, introducing a new crop of careers and industries that value skills tailored towards technology and innovation.
From computer coding and website design to social media marketing, SEO and blogging, the possibilities for the graduating students of today are changing as technology advances.
3D printing is one of the latest technologies to enter schools, producing highly detailed three-dimensional objects via Computer Aided Data (CAD) software.
The technology, also referred to as additive manufacturing, is transforming the way companies do business; creating medical prosthetics for doctors, architectural models, car parts, machinery for the oil and gas industry, right through to fashion designs and historical artefact copies.
3D printing can also enhance practices in the classroom, helping students better grasp the complexities of biology and chemistry molecules, engineering and design, topographic and demographic maps in geology, and mathematic problems.
Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE) president Martin Levins said the education industry has hailed 3D printing’s role in getting students ready for a tech-focused future.
“The 3D printer democratises access to the 3D physical world where tens of thousands of dollars were needed in the recent past, in the same way that laser printers and desktop publishing software did for the print market,” Mr Levins said.
“Additionally, they open the world of 3D conceptualisation to an industry that has traditionally dealt with two dimensional materials, and research has shown that children are more at home with three dimensions than with two.”
Makers Empire, one of the many Australian companies specialising in the technology, said 3D printing had been around for several decades, but had only reached a point of utility, reliability and affordability for schools in the last five years.
“10 years ago, 3D printers were either very expensive ( more than $50,000) or very ‘DIY’ requiring a lot of tinkering and fixing,” Makers Empire chief executive Jon Soong said.
“But times have changed: the last five years has seen a huge influx of new 3D printer manufacturers constantly improving the quality of the prints and the ease of use of 3D printers while simultaneously reducing the cost to the end user.”
Mr Soong said 3D printing had “unequalled educational benefits for schools”, making abstract concepts such as DNA comprehensible; letting students study inaccessible objects such as fossils and skeletons; improving spatial awareness and thinking; offering real world experience in the design thinking process; and positioning students as innovators and creators rather than just consumers.
“The technology can also be used to solve real world problems,” Mr Soong said.
“For example, one grade 6 class decided to create clips to help their teacher’s toddler who has cerebral palsy.
“She had to wear medical straps on her legs but they kept falling down so the grade 6 students designed, prototyped and tested 3D printed clips to secure her leg straps and stop them falling.”
The machines were also highly praised for fostering female students’ interest in STEM related subjects traditionally dominated by boys.
“The Australian Curriculum: Technologies has an emphasis on thinking - systems thinking, computational thinking and design thinking,” Mr Soong said.
“While coding and robotics are great for computational thinking, we believe 3D design and printing to be a fantastic tool to teach design thinking while also introducing students to a technology that will feature heavily in their futures.”
School interest in 3D printing has reached new heights in the last five years, with both the Federal and State Governments financially supporting the technology roll out.
In 2016, the Federal Government announced a Digital Literacy School Grants initiative as part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda to encourage and facilitate the new Australian curriculum; Digital Technologies.
The funding round handed out grants of between $10,000 and $50,000 for equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters, and professional development in the ICT arena.
Last year the South Australian Government also launched a 3D printing pilot program partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development and Maker’s Empire, which saw 3D printers installed in 21 State Government primary schools.
This year the South Australian Government continued its support, providing an additional 50 schools with printers.
Construction had also begun at 139 South Australian schools that were receiving infrastructure overhauls as part of a $250 million STEM Works program.
Similarly, in Victoria, the Andrews Labor Government’s $128 million Tech School initiative will see 10 new tech schools open throughout 2017 and 2018, complete with 3D printers and 3D scanners partnering schools can share.
Canberra was also leading the way, with the ACT Education Directorate and Australian 3D Manufacturing Association (A3DMA) beginning a schools pilot program to equip six Canberra public schools for 3D printing.
“The program supported students and teachers to develop their knowledge on how 3D technologies are used in the real world through experimenting, problem solving, prototyping and evaluating processes,” an ACT Education Directorate spokesperson said.
Further west, the Department of Education WA invited interested schools to apply for a 3D printer in 2015.
“Forty schools from across the State were supplied with a printer, and staff from these schools completed professional learning so they could use the technology effectively,” Department of Education WA executive director of state-wide services Lindsay Hale said.
PRINTING IN THE CLASSROOM
3D printing has never been so easy to integrate into the school curriculum, with a diverse range of support services and PD courses now available to help ease the transition.
The Australian 3D Manufacturing Association (A3DMA) chief executive Mike de Souza said 3D printers on the lower end could set schools back as little as $400, but advised principals to invest in a printer that had been ‘tried and tested’, and was reliable with suitable safety features, support and warranties.
He said a dependable printer for a school started at the $1500 mark, and recommended schools supplement this with a professional support program to ensure the printing process ran smoothly.
A3DMA’S program was one example, which offered schools support, training, lesson plans, and software.
“The 3D4ED program was devised by the A3DMA because of the outcome of the research that we had done which indicated a number of issues and problems that were being detailed by virtually every school or educational organisation that wanted to or had tried to instigate a program,” Mr de Souza said.
“Those issues went from a lack of knowledge on hardware and software programs, a lack of support; all of the types of things that you would normally associate with a new and innovative program that people just don’t know anything about.
“So in conjunction with the Department of Education and Training we wrote and devised the programs and certified that hardware and went through testing processes where different types of hardware for different purposes would be assessed by us, and software programs.”
He said examples of lessons included designing the planets of the universe through CAD software and bringing these to life through transferring the date to the 3D machine.
“There’s open source software, which is available and free on the internet, stuff like Tinkercad; and then there’s software that you buy such as Solidworks,” he said.
“As things move there is a lot more free and open source software becoming available, and as we move on there are many more programs and different type of prints available.”
Subscription software such as Anatomicsrx’s Diversity was increasingly used in schools,