As research compiled by the Global Skills Index (2015) reveals that engineering and technology talent in the UK threatens productivity and economic expansion in the face of global competition, there can be no doubt that a concerted push is sorely needed to encourage more of Britain’s youth to opt for the sciences at GCSE and A-Level, with a view to furnishing careers in engineering, biotech and the sciences. The use of 3D printing in schools is an ideal gateway to bringing to life the possibilities of invention and creativity within the minds of students, in order to close this skills gap and ensure future UK innovation and productivity.
To date in the UK, use of 3D design and printing technology has been largely restricted to Design and Technology (DT) classrooms. However, UK schools are on the verge of a breakout moment as they come to realise there is considerable potential for 3D printers to be used within a range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. The potential extends beyond the physical demonstration of product creation but also as a tool to integrate learning between the STEM subjects by linking shared and compatible scientific or mathematical concepts.
Fostering Innovation in the Next Generation
Providing pupils with the opportunity to understand the application and potential of this new type of technology will be essential to helping prepare them for a world in which similar technologies will be increasingly commonplace particularly in STEM contexts.
Feel the Need for Speed
In line with the visual environment and stimuli that today’s ‘millenial’ generation are used to via their smartphones and digital platforms, the immediacy of 3D printing satisfies their desire for immediate outcomes and results. Today’s students now expect to be able to design on a computer-aided design programme (CAD) and to then view their creation in its actuality within the hour. 3D printing achieves this with ease with the key advantage being there is no break in the momentum of the creative or problem-solving flow. Students can now touch and see how their first prototype functions with the ability to make immediate revisions until they ‘get it right.’
By challenging students to devise prints that have a true function in everyday life, this can motivate valuable innovation. Use of 3D design and technology in the classroom can help foster the creative and analytical thinking they will need as future professionals.
Benefits For Schools Too
From a school’s point of view, employing 3D technology in the classroom is a key way of differentiating itself from neighbouring schools in terms of its reputation for
innovation, creativity and forward thinking. Technology provision is also a key differentiator for parents anxious to provide their children with the best possible opportunities in a schooling environment.
Furthermore, in an increasingly competitive career environment, as students graduate from high school and then university and consider their futures, those who can demonstrate hands-on experience in science-based and high tech skills will exude the confidence needed to get ahead in a tough working environment.
Whilst opt-in numbers for science-based subjects is dropping across the sexes, it also becomes critically important for educators to think ahead about how to stem the flow of female interest away from ‘softer’ subjects.
As girls tend to perform better than boys in schools, how to pique interest and channel that female success becomes an important challenge for schools. Inspired by the MakerGirl (http://makergirl.us) campaign which is committed to bringing STEM based learning along with 3D printing workshops to rural parts of the United States for girls aged 7 to 10, schools can use technology in the classroom to break down barriers of communication between boys and girls and nurture a culture of diversity and equality within a skills-based learning environment.
As Easy as ABC
Early adopters of 3D technology in schools tend towards a trial and error learning approach to mastering the printers and associated materials. By beginning with the demonstration and printing of small files such as 3D shapes, teachers are able to progress alongside older students towards more complex projects, delivering the curriculum. This in turn has an empowering effect on the students often ‘leading’ the process and forming natural teams for group work.