8 Tips for Organizing a 3d Printing Lesson in Class

 |  Lia Gale

                                How to organize a 3D printing Lesson in class. 

Progress is moving fast and a lot of times schools can’t catch up to it in time, as most public schools lack finances and equipment. But teachers are resourceful and can find a way out of difficult situations. 3D printing is a wonderful example of what technology can achieve. In only 2 decades it went from a far-fetched idea to a real device.

Today, many companies focus on producing 3D printers, and not only the ones used in industrial manufacturing. Home-oriented devices are the 3D printers Dibbsto mainly focuses on, as well as many other companies. As 3D printing has long become a reality and a part of the modern tech arena, middle school, and high school students can benefit from knowing more about this amazing technology and later on learning to use it to their advantage.

A demo lesson is a great way to get the kids interested and excited about a 3D printer. The school can even rent a 3D printer for a few lessons without having to purchase it. Though there are a good number of cheap 3d printers for students and beginners that you can buy. 


But this lesson, or better yet a series of lessons needs a fair bit of planning, which depends on the age of the kids, the number of lessons you can arrange and on whether this will be an after-school activity or a main scheduled lesson. The difference is clear, isn’t it? If it’s an after school gathering, only the kids already interested in the topic will show up, and if it’s a regular lesson, you need to focus on sparking interest in all of the kids, even those, who could care less about 3D printing.

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Students testing a prosthetic: Image Source: roundsquare.org


Steps To Create A 3D Printing Lesson

Stage 1. A theoretical intro to handling a 3D printer.

Some of the kids might already be aware, others might not, but in any case, first of all, they should know what they’re dealing with and how to handle the device properly. As we all know, it’s a good idea to start a discussion, just to get a better idea of where they’re at and what aspect of 3D printing interests them the most. Once you find that out and spark the initial interest, all the rest should be easier. Now more about printing. You should have all the info, before attempting demonstration, so let’s see what we are dealing with 


Stage 2. Start naturally with the 3D model of whatever you are planning to print.

As CAD (computer-aided design) classes are rarely a part of the curriculum, it’s best to download the models you’d like to print in class. These models have .stl file extension and can be found on numerous websites, like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory, etc. You should be aware of the limitations your 3D printer has beforehand, in order to choose the models you can actually print and not disappoint the class. It’s a good idea to give the kids an opportunity to find a few files themselves and run them by yourself to see if it’s actually possible to print them with the device you have at hand. 

If you are dealing with middle school students, it might be a better idea to find the demo printables yourself, so you won’t create extra tension between the kids, in case you won’t have enough time to create all of their chosen models, especially if you have a big class. So choose a few good examples from free libraries, or you might buy 3-5 nice models. If you are dealing with high schoolers, you can encourage them to find one model each and then have a pole and decide 3 winners by voting. It will add some extra interest and excitement to the topic. 

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Students learning 3D design with SelfCAD: Image Source: SelfCAD


Alternatively, you can also choose to design the models yourself if you have the expertise. If you don’t know where you can get started, you can check out these 17 best 3D printing software of 2020 to see which one is best for you and your students.


Stage 3 Prepare a Slicing Software.

Once you have the model ready, you have to hook up the computer and prepare the slicing software. The slicing software usually comes with the printer itself and is used to prepare the 3D model for printing. But for those using SelfCAD, it’s an added advantage as it has its own in-built slicer. It literally ‘slices’ the model into thinnest possible layers, giving the printer clear step-by-step instructions. It’s always a good idea to first try at home anything you are attempting to demonstrate in class, so make sure you have all the ends covered and test the software. Even if you don’t really like the result, don’t despair. You can get slicing software online, in case you are not happy with the one that came with the printer. 


Stage 4. Have enough material for multiple demonstrations.

It might require some preparation and online ordering, so take care of that well beforehand. Usually, the widely available 3D printers work with various polymers, so it would be a great idea to teach the kids about these materials too. How they are obtained and how they can be recycled later. It’s always good to incorporate knowledge from other disciplines, so here’s a bright opportunity to remind the high schoolers about what they learned in chemistry class and do a small ‘science intro’ for the middle school kids. 

Stage 5. Let the learners take a good look at the printer and discuss all the main parts:

The Extruder, the Hot end, the display unit, etc. Discuss what each part does for the device. This on-hand experience will help them better understand the whole process, and spark interest towards different devices in general. We rarely think about how our household items actually work, but it’s a great idea to explore this route with the kids.  You can compare the 3D printer to a vacuum cleaner, just for fun, and find a similar part in both devices. The absurdity of it will prompt them to remember the construction much better. (We weren’t serious about the vacuum cleaner… Or were we?)  

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Main Parts of an FDM printer: Image source: apm-designs


Stage 7. Let the printing commence!

We finally reached the fun part. Actually seeing the printer in action. This is exciting not only for the students but usually for the teachers as well. We never stop wondering where the technological advances will take us tomorrow, so seeing 3D printers in action is still pretty great.  After you have a few of the models printed, you can decide together what to do with them. Besides, it’s always a good idea to get the older kids to help the younger ones, so maybe they can get the best model as a prize for tutoring a younger kid or helping out with some volunteer work at school. You can even have a formal award ceremony, just for the fun of it. 


Stage 8. Now is the time to dot the i-s and cross the t-s.

Have a discussion about what this actually means, and how can this technology be used to better people’s lives. Without this vital discussion, a 3D printer is going to be a fun toy they can use when they’re bored. But it’s not all that one-dimensional, is it? This is a technology that has great potential and they’re the ones who will get to explore that potential. If today we are able to print houses, what will be possible tomorrow? That’s a discussion worth having. Our kids have to know that the path technology will take depends on them. Personally. They might not grow up to be great scientists of world leaders, but they must be well-aware of how the technology works and how they can use it as a learning tool, rather than entertainment.


Teachers have a great responsibility to teach the kids not only math, literature, or biology, but they need to teach them how to learn effectively and how to teach others. In this day and age, when all the knowledge is available online, they should be teaching them how to get relevant information. How to distinguish between that relevant information and the endless sea of bs flooding the internet. If they learn how to think for themselves and how to get new knowledge and skills effectively, they have done right by them. And rest assured, those kids will find their own way in this world.


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