3D Printing in every classroom, Part I

China to install printers in all 400,000 schools in the country.
China to install printers in all 400,000 schools in the country.

HOW to get it there: two models for getting 3DP into every classroom

Top Down 3D Printing in every classroom

In early April this year, a report began to circulate that “the Chinese government has a new policy to install a 3D printer in each of its approximately 400,000 elementary schools over the next two years.”

This bold move will station China at the forefront of the march to bring 3D printing technology to the classroom. It demonstrates a commitment to the democratization of learning, an ideal counterpart to the potential for 3D printing to democratize manufacturing or “making”.

With a printer in every classroom, all of China’s children will have an opportunity to experience this transformative technology and participate in a process that will change the way we manufacture, the way we design, the way we think.

Printers in 400,000 schools. That’s a bold and enviable initiative. It’s also a top-down initiative. What are the potential challenges involved in this approach?

Certainly preparedness of the infrastructure is a concern:

  • Will staff in every school be prepared to support and sustain this technology?
  • Will curricula be ready so that 3DP is integrated to learning in the most effective ways possible?
  • Will teachers be trained to incorporate 3DP into their classrooms in effective ways?
  • Will schools have an adequate ongoing supply of required materials?

Bottoms up 3D printing in every classroom

It’s hard to imagine us succeeding with a similar strategy in the U.S. Surely there would be years of painful budgetary wrangling accompanied by partisan attacks and counter-attacks.

In the U.S. we rely on generating excitement and interest at the grass roots level with federal and local level speeches, Maker Faires, science fairs and funding for centerpiece resources.

Last June 18, President Obama “hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged ‘every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.’” The President called for an “all hands on deck” approach and suggested six projects that might help build student participation in “making.” This June, the White House will host the second Maker Faire.

Also in 2014, The America Makes Institute was established, members of Congress established a Makers Caucus, and $240,000,000 was designated for a new digital manufacturing hub in Chicago. Another $240,000,000 in STEM Commitments announced at the National Science Fair in 2015 included specifics related to 3D printing technologyand encouraging “makers.”

Other than generating excitement and seed funding, though, it has been up to individual schools, school districts and organizations to plan for and invest in 3D printing. There are an increasing number of wonderful 3DP projects initiated in individual classrooms and schools, several I’ll highlight in 3D Print in every classroom, Part III.

In our U.S. based business, sales to teachers, schools and school districts have been brisk, amounting to about 40% of all sales. This is encouraging news for getting 3D printers into every classroom!

Within the local framework, there are somewhat wider commitments in the U.S. Last week an announcement came out about Baltimore placing 3D printers in each of its 49 Archdiocese schools.

This strategy of relying on local interest, engagement and funding may result in some gains for long-term development and maintenance.

    • Doing the research and planning that results in 3DP funding in specific schools may make them better prepared to integrate 3DP technology into the students’ world.
    • Early-on engagement in local areas may produce the interest and skills to maintain a project.

On the other hand, relying on local interest and engagement means some kids will have more access than others. Some may not have access or only delayed access.

3D printing in every classroom: Top down or bottoms up?

These two models for bringing 3D printing to the classroom are very different. Each has inherent benefits and challenges.

  • Which model do you think will work better to get sustainable 3D printing programs into every school?
  • What ideas do you have for overcoming the challenge in a bottoms up model of reaching every child in this country?

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Coming up: 3D Printing in Every Classroom, Part II.