What if 3D printing were the killer app to enhance education in a way never seen before? If recent surveys and reports are to be trusted, 3D printing in education could be the key to preparing students to enter the workforce and much more.
Within four years, 3D printing will be partially responsible for a situation in which “more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today,” according to The Future of Jobs (PDF), a January 2016 report by the World Economic Forum.
It would seem then that, globally, the education system has an opportunity and an incentive to make 3D printing a priority in the classroom.
After all, the roots of experiential, hands-on learning are well established, dating back to the second industrial revolution in the U.S.
In 1896, John Dewey, considered one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, opened the firstlaboratory school at the University of Chicago. Dewey’s brand of progressive education eschewed traditional, rote teaching methods in favor of thinking and doing.
At the time, many great inventions came from individuals—such as Charles Grafton Page, Michael Faraday, and Joseph Henry—using their powers of observation and deductive logic, rather than academic training.
Building on the work of Dewey, in the early 1990s, Seymour Papert developed the educational theory known as constructionism, which advocates for teaching both in context and with an understanding of a student’s motivation for learning.
Papert’s idea of experiential learning is the motivating force behind one effort promoting 3D printers for schools: FabLab@School, a “worldwide growing network of educational digital fabrication labs.” The project encourages the physical creation of objects using 3D printers and laser cutters in collaboration with peers, and aims to engage children in resolving actual problems.
“If you introduce engineering in the classroom in order to teach math, every kid gets it,” says Jeffrey Lipton, former project lead of Fab@Home, an ideologically similar but different initiative than FabLab@School. “It takes math from a boring subject to a superpower.”