No technological concept has intrigued yet disappointed the education community as much as 3D has. From floating Second Life avatars flying students to imaginary learning islands to throbbing dissected hearts projected in dimly lit classrooms to curricula springing from handheld tablets, the promise of teaching in the next dimension has been too good to be true. Most, if not all, of these attempts have gone the way of the paperless classroom.
3D printing is different. The products you see on the cover and read about on page 42 are not prototypes but actual devices in action right now. Admittedly, when we first reported on 3D printers (check out our September, 2014 cover story in the archives: www.techlearning.com/currentissuearchive), these machines did little more than print out novelty plastic doohickeys. But since then, teachers and students have designed curricula, spawned innovative projects, and even created new industries.
Another indication that 3D printing is more than a fad is how important its use is in three other edtech hot topics—the Maker Movement, STEM education initiatives, and project-based learning. Contributing editor Ellen Ullman describes sixth-graders in Denver’s STEM launch K-8 program (How schools make “making” meaningful,) designing and creating architectural models for tiny houses in conjunction with a social studies project that addressed housing shortages. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I was doing in the sixth grade!
I must admit that 3D printing still mystifies me a bit. There is some sort of Willy Wonka magic that occurs between the image on the screen and the thing in the box. But for students, it’s just another day in the classroom, which gives me hope for the future!
— Kevin Hogan