When we try to answer the question (what is so important about 3D Printers in the classroom?) we have to not only look at the printer itself, but the driving forces behind it. Many of the same points for 3D printers in the classroom are echoes of the “computers in the classroom” argument…imagination, creativity, blah blah blah, you have heard them all before. So, is the 3D printer any different and if so, how? and what sets it apart from a regular printer.
One aspect or argument for 3D printers in the classroom is that they spark the synergistic effects of education. To be able to produce some type of product from a 3D printer requires the application and utilization of other subject matters. This can be exemplified in “computers in the classroom.” If you are learning a word processing program you must understand and utilize your typing, spelling, and concept skills (conveying in words the concept that is formulated). If you are using a spreadsheet program you must utilize your math and typing skills. Hence, this argument still holds with 3D printers. If you want to design an object you must understand on some level art, geometry, basic math skills, as well as the software to make your design come to life. It’s no different from it was 25 years ago when schools were arguing for computers in the classroom. So, in the very least, the 3D printer could ride the coat tails of the “computer in the classroom” argument which would justify its inclusion in the educational environment
However, what sets the 3D printer apart from its partner in crime, the ink jet printer? Holding an object, or seeing a picture of an object…which instills more understanding of concept? When you work with a spreadsheet, word processor document, presentation package, or database the output from the printer is a sheet of paper which conveys ideas. When you design a 3D object and print a picture of it, that sheet of paper conveys an idea of what your design looks like. However, if you print your same design on a 3D printer it not only conveys an idea…it now has practical use value. You can now take that idea and put it to use doing something! if a picture is worth a thousand words how many is the actual object worth?
So, 3D printing and “computers in the classroom” provide motivations to learning outside subject matters…math, geometry, art, as well as, exposes students to technical drawing. 3D printers and ink jet printers convey ideas, but, 3D printers differ from ink jet printers by providing tangible objects that can be put to use versus pictures of those objects. In some cases this difference actually provides more motivation for some students to investigate and learn outside subjects which they may not be studying or that may not even be taught at their school.