3D Printing Better High School Education Experiences

In my high school physics class, one of our projects was to build a bridge out of balsa wood and glue that weighted under a certain amount and then see how much weight the bridge would hold. In theory, this would allow us to apply the basic engineering concepts we were learning to a real world problem. However, the bridge was more or less an arts and crafts project; those people who paid the most attention to their building process (i.e. cut pieces precisely and used a lot of glue) had the better bridges, not necessarily those with superior designs. Building the bridge was also extremely time consuming, so we only made one bridge and did not have the chance to learn why our design failed and to improve upon the bridge, which is where the bulk of actual learning would occur.

balsa bridge

Now imagine this project if you could somehow rapidly design and build bridges. With 3D printing, students could design a bridge, test it, see what failed, and then redesign their bridge based on what they learned. The precision and repeatability of 3D printing means the only variable that changes is the student’s design. Small changes to a bridge, or even entire re-designs, can be tested knowing the quality of construction will be consistent, allowing students to learn from their failures.

CAD bridge

While this is just one example, 3D printing offers a wide variety of educational uses, allowing students to design and create actual objects to test in a real world environment. The only limits to this technology are the creativity and imagination of students.  The low cost, biodegradable FDM (fused deposition modeling) material combined with the decreasing prices of consumer 3D printers makes 3D printing a cost-effective and safe way for schools and school districts to allow students to learn and experiment. 3D printing is billed as a technology of the future so why don’t we get it in the hands of the future, today’s students?

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