As I look back at my educational foundation, there were several grade school classes that really tweaked my interests. Middle school does not bring any outstanding classes to the forefront of memory, although, I do remember many of the projects that were required, Science and Art in particular. Although, as a class, nothing stands out holistically though this may be the fog of age. I clearly remember my 9th grade algebra and 12th grade computer classes. For whatever reason, I understood the importance of Algebra and began to use it daily, seeing the influence within the real world, as well as on assignments.
Of course, in 12th grade, computers were the new up and coming thing back in the…err…1980s (yes, I’m old), and for me, programming them always led to problem solving solutions that produced tangible results. However, back then the results were spit out on a printer. The satisfaction of completing the task and seeing the results provided lots of motivation…self-driven motivation, the carrot…not the stick. Even today, some thirty years after high school, when I sit down to a programming screen, it becomes very difficult for me to leave the keyboard until a module is complete and working properly. Though now, I only program for my own hobby projects. However, it’s the challenge seeing something tangible brought to life which provides my self-motivation.
Therefore, a key for teachers is to tap into student’s self-motivation, i.e., finding the right carrot. In the 1980s computers were the new tech on the block and provided a considerable sized carrot. However, after thirty years of micro-computing, laptops and cell phones are now household items. Most homes have at least one computer and the kids within have grown up interacting with the internet from day one. By the time a student get to 6th grade they have already surpassed my 12th computer class from back in the day.
Hence, the new carrot on the block is the 3D printer, and it is a game changer much like the micro-computer in the classroom of the 1980s. 3D printers not only roll my old 12th grade programming class into the curriculum they cross subject boundaries much like the typical 2D desktop printer. However, they offer so much more. 2D printers can only convey ideas on paper…a portable solution, whereas 3D printers convey portable ideas and provide students with a prototype to test and manipulate. Students can discover flaws in their own theories, redesign their ideas and test them again. When a project is finished they walk away with a real solution to a real problem, not just a picture on paper.
It’s no wonder 3D printers provide motivation for learning. A real solution or physical object created to solve an actual problem, to make a problem go away…it’s a no brainer. However, before the solution can be created, the amalgamation of more than one classroom subject must take place. In all cases, 3D drawing software must be learned. Additionally, math will be involved as measurements are needed for accurate prototyping. Even Art has a place with 3D printing. Nothing is more poignant than the fusion of Art, Science, and Math!
Lastly, and likely the most important aspect, though typically, not mentioned within the STEM environment is imagination. 3D printers provide a media with which children can imagine, create, and bring to life a real object from their mind’s eye.
So, the moral of the story…walk softly and carry a BIG carrot! And today, the new biggest motivational carrot on the block is 3D printing.