The Allure of the Third Dimension

There are two great reasons for a school to purchase a 3D printer. The first, and likely the most obvious, is that you can create some really cool things. Students can design and print a phone case, a dinosaur, the missing gear on their favorite childhood toy they assumed would never work again… the possibilities are nearly endless.

The second reason, not entirely unrelated to the first, is perhaps even more important. It’s to get students excited. Sure, there are arguably more affordable ways to pique interest and grow enthusiasm for STEM programs, but I’m not sure others are as palpable as what we here at Excel experienced last Friday as we unboxed our new Flashforge Creator Pro. We’d already been hyping our STEAM Room, the new Makerspace that we’ve been building for a few weeks, but with the unveiling of this creativity-stimulating monolith, suddenly everything clicked for our students.

“You got a 3D printer?” “When can we use it?” “What can it print?” “Can I touch it?” “How does it work?” These are just a handful of the eager questions we were peppered with as students got their first glances. Suddenly the promise of being able to create whatever they could dream up made sense. Watching the printer in action, it was clear many of them would be content to observe it layer by layer for hours, engrossed in the magic of printing in the third dimension.

Of course, the first print failed. Miserably. In front of a class of twenty. And being new to 3D printing myself, I was unable to quickly answer why. This failure did provide a great chance to reinforce that things go wrong, tools (and humans – even teachers!) make mistakes, and creating something awesome usually takes multiple attempts. I’m glad the first failed print job was my own and not a student project – it forced me to learn common troubleshooting techniques and maybe even took a little bit of the magic out of the printer, grounding it again for students as one of many tools we can use to make things.

Though there aren’t too many other tools that could have made our new Computational Thinking trophy:



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