10 Ways 3D Printing Can Be Used In Education


How Does 3D Printing Work?

3D printing sounds like something from science fiction, but the process is similar to that of CNC machining, where billets are cut into specific shapes and products. But rather than cutting, it prints.

A 3D printer works by ‘printing’ objects–but instead of using ink, it uses more substantive materials–plastics, metal, rubber, and the like. It scans an object–or takes an existing scan of an object–and slices it into layers it can then convert into a physical object.

The result is a product that while not as intricate, durable, or functional as the real-world equivalent, is otherwise a real thing that didn’t exist 30 seconds before you printed it.

In fact, what it is you’re actually producing depends on what is being printed: if it’s toy jewelry, rubber balls, and plastic chess pieces your after, you’re printing not an analogue of the real thing, but the real thing itself.

As far as how this can be used in education, it’s a matter of bringing objects out of the computer screen and into the hands of students for inspection, analysis, and other processes that can benefit from physical manipulation. In that way, 3D printers may eventually be able to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital–use a screen to find what you need, then print it into existence. 

10 Ways 3D Printing Can Be Used In Education

1. Engineering design students can print out prototypes

2. Architecture students can print out 3D models of designs

3. History classes can print out historical artifacts for examination

4. Graphic Design students can print out 3D versions of their artwork

5. Geography students can print out topography, demographic, or population maps

6. Cooking students can create molds for food products

7. Automotive students can print out replacement parts or modified examples of existing parts for testing

8. Chemistry students can print out 3D models of molecules

9. Biology students can print out cells, viruses, organs, and other critical biological artifacts

10. Math students can print out ‘problems’ to solve in their own learning spaces, from scale models to city infrastructural design challenges


The makerspace is not a new concept. But as educators embrace “making,” students find new outlets for their creativity and ingenuity at school. Students are now encouraged to take matters into their own hands – literally.

See also 5 Factors Of Education Building Design Of The Future

The maker movement empowers students to design, tinker and build as a way to solve new problems. Access to tools and technologies can help activate creative thinking and problem-solving, which are two adaptable skills necessary when students enter a dynamic and quickly modernizing STEM workforce.

Sounds great, right? It’s not so simple. The challenge for teachers and administrators becomes equipping students with the right tools and lessons to support self-directed, experiential learning.

One technology closely associated with the maker movement is 3D printing. From chocolate to prosthetics and even live cells, the appeal of 3D printing is certainly its virtually limitless possibilities. Paired with adequate resources for teachers, 3D printing in the classroom can expand students’ STEM and STEAM horizons.

Here’s why 3D printing is such an integral part of the maker movement in education.

5 Reasons 3D Printing Is On Its Way To Your Classroom

1. It provides a tangible framework for trial & error

3D printing requires students to take an idea through a design and production process to complete a model. They can digitally design and modify their model on-screen and revisit that design after testing and analyzing a printed prototype. Working through a process of trial-and-error in multiple dimensions provides students the opportunity to understand why and how their ideas worked.

2. It creates a direct connection between a problem to a solution

Social media and other digital design forums keep students and teachers constantly connected to new information and ideas. Students can search for design blueprints of an idea they have in mind, or, conversely, come across someone who needs help.

For example, EnablingtheFuture.org connects people who can’t afford prosthetics to “makers” willing to lend a hand with 3D printing.

3. It can demystify ‘engineering

As opposed to traditional rotary tools, students can simply push a button on a 3D printer to build their models from start to finish. The 3D printing process is approachable for students who may be apprehensive about taking manufacturing and engineering classes. 3D printing technology provides an entry point to technical fields to help break down barriers to STEM.

4. It offers design flexibility.

3D printing provides students with a single material (filament) that can take any number of shapes and sizes. A 3D-printed piece can be an attachment or adaption for an unfinished prototype, increasing the efficiency of design and production. Students are not left pondering which materials, parts or scraps they need to acquire to bring their ideas to life.

5. It doesn’t have to break the budget.

When thinking about adding new technology, budget is always a consideration. And unexpected costs too often leave teachers footing the bill. Only the exact amount of filament needed is used to successfully build a model, meaning there is virtually no waste or scrap in material.

While 3D printing is only one option in the maker’s toolkit, it’s a safe and approachable selection to encourage students to tinker. It offers a fluid model for linking digital design to physical production, enabling students to shape the future of STEM.

Five Questions About 3D Printing

Recently, I checked in with 3D Printing expert Zach Lichaa with five questions to help schools consider adding this innovative tool to help grow their teaching and learning. 

1. What are the basics that a school might need to know to get started with 3D Printing?

Schools need to choose capable design software, 3D printer, and materials from a trusted provider to get started with 3D printing. Successful 3D printing programs at schools encourage students and teachers to design objects on software programs like Tinkercad and Sketchup, a reliable 3D printer that has the endorsement of its user base and the materials your printer is designed to work with. Ask somebody for help to nail all three down as this will eliminate headaches down the road.

2. Why is 3D printing worth the investment?

Any administrator or teacher who has seen kids and young adults interact with 3D printers knows the excitement the technology brings. A ton of curiosity and excitement washes over the room. The most basic reason 3D printing is a worthwhile investment for schools is the added engagement it brings to the classroom for existing coursework. Allowing students to think of a solution to a science, math, history or engineering challenge, and then turn that concept into a physical object with relative ease is a powerful tool.

3. How can 3D printing help grow better teaching and learning?

Related to the idea in question number two, learning takes on a new excitement for students when they’re using their 3D printer to create objects they can hold in their hands. From a teaching perspective, a 3D printer is best used as a tool that provides new ways to teach about ancient civilizations, engineering and mathematical problems, art history and scientific materials.

4. What are some of the challenges schools considering 3D printing should be aware of?

This is a new technology for most people, so expect to have some challenges along the way. Some of the prints won’t come out the way you want them, some of your material might become brittle and crack and the software take a few weeks to get used to. The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate risk, including purchasing a quality 3D printer, good materials and identifying easy to learn and useful software programs. Additionally, there are thousands of users of 3D printers that have shared their solutions to common problems on the web, so you’re never alone.

5. Can you share some examples of great uses of 3D printing to grow teaching and learning?

One of our favorite uses of 3d printing to grow teaching and learning was a science class that designed and created many of the tools they would use throughout the semester to do their coursework. This was done at the high school level. At the middle school level and lower, there’s a lot of work being done in the engineering and arts areas. Building scale models of buildings, airplanes and cars, including the parts that go into these items, is both a common exercise for schools that own 3d printers and one which prepares their students with 21st century tools that will provide for high levels of employment.