3D printers are increasingly finding their way into schools, with applications not just in traditional design subjects, but across the curriculum.
Speaking at Re.Work’s Future of Education event held yesterday in London, Paul Croft, director of 3D printing manufacturers Ultimaker, described how the company is working with schools to use 3D printing across subjects including history and engineering in both primary and secondary education.
However when the company first started working with schools, Croft found that the biggest challenge was not with the children, but in helping teachers to find effective ways to use the printers in lessons.
He explained that the majority of children understand the potential of the technology instantly, citing the example of one child who was reluctant to participate in most lessons, but who took it upon himself to design a 3D model for printing following a class featuring the printers.
Teachers, however, struggled to find uses for the machines, particularly when faced with high workloads from other teaching duties.
To resolve this issue Ultimaker decided to create a support site for education that includes a growing number of lesson plans for different subjects.
“We wanted to create something that’s unique and bespoke to the education sector,” explained Croft.
The company has recruited teachers and academics to provide lesson plans, and promises to grow the – admittedly small – selection.
Current examples including a guide for art teachers complete with a file to print the head of Michelangelo’s statue of David, and a lesson plan for Egyptian history that includes a printable 3D scan of an ushabti figurine from the National Museum of Cardiff.
While there are a wealth of technologies in development that could undoubtedly help students, unless the teachers are given support and resources to include these it would be unreasonable to expect them to have the time to master each technology themselves.
Many of the companies that are finding success appear to have some connection to education themselves, allowing them to appreciate the nuances of school budgets and teacher requirements to make their products work.
Ultimaker is no exception to this: Croft is one of the only members of his family who is not a teacher, and this connection has undoubtedly helped him get the printers into schools.
Whether they become a permanent feature of education, however, remains to be seen.