Why 3D Printing is a Great Resource for Elementary Schools


We all want the best for our children and, from the time they are born, we hope that they’ll grow up to be happy and productive adults.  Often, high schools try help with this by teaching certain job skills like computer science, marketing, and now even engineering through the use of 3D printing.  What if you were to learn that introducing 3D printing at the elementary school level could help prepare children for later workforce success?  There is new evidence suggesting that this is precisely the case.

The Gap in Our Education System

We all know that the workforce is changing drastically.  As adults, we have a difficult time keeping up with the advances and shifts in today’s global economy.  Imagine the implications for our youth.

If you think that only factory jobs are under threat, you’re sorely mistaken.  Boston Consulting Group recently predicted that by 2025 as much as 25 percent of our current jobs will be taken over by software or robots and Oxford University predicts a 35 percent loss in the UK.  What non-factory jobs will be lost?  Among the list are some of the functions of physicians, insurance and financial specialists, journalists, architects, paralegals, and yes  – teachers.

Let’s set aside concerns about your job for a moment and consider the next generation.  As it turns out, many of the skills that are being taught in schools today are not going to prepare students for the jobs of the future.  While there remains a place for arts and humanities in curriculum, according to a recent report from the World Economic Forum on “The Future of Jobs,” this isn’t where core job skills are being found.  Instead, the use of hands-on learning and, particularly, 3D printing at the elementary school level is where significant change can be inspired.

The Hands-On Learning Experience

Experiential, or hands-on, learning isn’t a new teaching tool.  John Dewey established his “laboratory school” in the late 1800s, ushering in a new brand of progressive education.  In recent years, Seymour Papert developed a theory called constructionism, which was the basis for the 3D printing school, FabLab@School.

When 3D printing is used in elementary schools, it accomplishes several things.  Math is suddenly fun!  Students become enthusiastic about projects through which they are able to see the fruits of their labors.  Technical skills aside, students are also taught the value of collaboration, advanced problem-solving, and many are even tasked with passing their hard-won knowledge down to the lower grades.

Successful Use of 3D Printing in Education

3D printing technology is already being used in some elementary schools with great success.  Dutch 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker has launched their Ultimaker Pioneer Program, aimed at educators in North America.  This free resource helps teachers bring additive-manufacturing technology into their classrooms and is already being used in 21 states.  K-1 students can bring their 2D art to life with 3D design, and older students can create 3D models of the Earth to study the planet’s core.

While we are still a long way from having a 3D printer in every classroom, progress continues to be made.  Just this year, Lord Kenneth Baker, the British education secretary, recommended that every primary school receive a 3D printer precisely to address the future employability of the next generation.  As one early adopter so eloquently stated, ” You see them making “things” while I see them making futures.”