Because “making” indicates promise for transforming the teaching and learning process, we need to understand the impact it has on our students today — and the possibilities it has to prepare students for the future workplace.
One technology closely associated with the maker movement is 3D printing. With virtually endless applications, 3D printing stimulates a student’s natural curiosity to create, test and tinker — ultimately providing an avenue to exercise a design-thinking mindset. Students explore problem solving through trial and error by digitally designing and modifying models on-screen, and revisiting that design after testing and analyzing the printed prototype.
Educators are continuing to experiment with how this technology can be scaled for different grade levels and curriculum, and how it can work within the school’s existing space design. Here, a transition period emerges: Within the next one to five years, we can expect pedagogy to evolve from what we know as the traditional classroom, where the flow of learning is more of a direct transfer from teacher to student, to a fluid environment suitable for student-led learning.
With 3D printing, students can take ownership in a final and tangible product that they saw through from the beginning to end. Students identify learning opportunities more independently because they view 3D printing as a means to providing a solution to an everyday problem. In this student-led approach, learning is an organic process that invites creativity and ingenuity.
Over the next decade, economic projections call for one million additional STEM professionals, according to a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Therefore, the demand for a new skillset exists — and the classroom will need to evolve with it.
Facilitating Student-Led Learning
Within the next five years, educators will adapt curriculum goals that more directly build a technical skillset, proactively preparing students to become the next generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, designers and inventors.
A 3D printer will no longer be a rare classroom accessory, or a tool transported from room-to-room on a cart. They will be the center of the classroom makerspace environment. Rather than teachers assigning students a clear objective for building a working 3D model, students will turn to this technology to complete cross-curricular project-based assignments, or to conceptualize algebraic formulas or sequences.
Early adopters are already beginning to see the vast applications for connecting this technology to other multimedia projects, manufacturing tools and computer programming tools. For example, many educators and students are 3D printing working prosthetics for those in need as a part of an online community called Enable the Future. Others are using 3D printing to aid in the assembly of robotics to expose students to STEM principles in an entirely hands-on experience.
Like the progressive adoption of all successful technologies, 3D printing very well may reach a point where it’s like the air we breathe: ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.
3D Printing in Future Careers
The unobtrusive presence of 3D printing in the classroom will progress as technology in the consumer space continues to drastically evolve. From producing our own consumer goods — i.e., shoes, repair parts, etc. — to accelerating the efficiency of printing and quality of material, the 3D printers we’ve become acquainted with today will soon feel like a clunky brick cell phone.
It might seem like 3D-printed human organs, bulletproof filament and automated computer-aided design (CAD) — and even 4D printing that morphs shape based upon feedback from the external environment — are a distant reality. However, we need to begin preparing students to live and work in a world that we cannot yet imagine.
As students and teachers begin to settle into a new, student-led classroom environment within the next few years, the potential for further applications of 3D printing mentioned above have the potential to flourish. We’ll see a shift in K-12 education that emphasizes more practical experiences in learning that can translate to the workplace. In fact, 3D printing as a skill recommendation, or even requirement, is expected to become a reality as soon as 2019.
We can expect career-training courses to increase, especially in the high school classroom. Robotics, CAD and 3D printing and imaging courses will emerge as core courses for STEM instruction, rather than an elective that appears in select districts.
These courses could evolve in one of two ways:
- They serve as the starting point for infusing new technologies into traditional math and science courses, or
- They stand alone as an overt career training course, where internships, cooperatives and other cross-training opportunities in the community are available to students looking to take the next step into a modernizing workforce.
Activating a Future-Ready Mindset
A glimpse into the future of education, and how 3D printing can influence the evolution of pedagogy, is not something that we should expect to take form without our active influence. While it’s difficult to anticipate the market and the future capabilities of technology, there are steps educators can take today to facilitate a flexible learning environment that’s ready to take on the uncertainties of the future.
Encourage students to develop their own projects using new and existing technology. Experiment with space design in your classroom. Spend time discussing how coursework could evolve into a potential career.
After all, it’s not technology that drives innovation. It’s our own curiosity and imagination.