What is 3D Printing?


Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as 3D modeling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, are more than sufficient to express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) that can be conveyed in three dimensions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Seriously? ;) This is the big one, folks. I'd like to see 3D printing move up at least a year or two on the horizon. The biggest barriers before: cost and quality. To get a good 3D printer was prohibitively expensive. To get a cheap one meant a lot of maintenance...down time. Part of the problem was that the printers were not made with education specifically in mind. Now there are 3D printers that are made just for schools. Less than $500 and very simple/durable. Plus 3D printer makers are willing to make volume discounts available to schools. Some companies are even donating 3D printers, although that hasn't happened to me yet! - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Apr 4, 2016 And some schools and Fab Labs are building their own 3D printers as part of the challenge! This adds another level of learning!- cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016
  • - RollandK RollandK Apr 9, 2016 Allows WYSIWYG ( What you see is what you get ) fulfillment of an otherwise intangible project.
  • 3-D printing technology permits students the ability to inexpensively create a solution or solve a challenge in their life or within their course work. The low cost makes it accessible for all grade levels, providing students a real opportunity to create that otherwise they would not be able to. - digitalroberto digitalroberto Apr 13, 2016
  • This has helped boost the adoption of makerspaces and fab labs in Brazil, and works great when scalability is not an issue. For larger projects you better have tools such as vynil cutters and laser cutters for rapid prototyping, or else you don't have time to make sure all the kids' projects are completed. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016
  • I agree that visualization of design is key to the learning process, and allows for the realization of products that could only be imagined previously.- alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • The description discusses 3D printers as if they're only used in manufacturing! How 3D printers are being used..and will be used...in schools needs to be not just added to, but the focus of, the description. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Apr 4, 2016 Agree.- cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016
  • add your response here
  • - RollandK RollandK Apr 9, 2016 Educational projects and student engagement.
  • How can we move the majority of students beyond printing from templates, but rather creating their own designs? - digitalroberto digitalroberto Apr 28, 2016
  • I think we are missing the entire conversation of "fabrication" technologies. It's not just about 3D printers anymore. What about vinyl cutters, or later engravers/cutters? There are many ways to build, and 3D printers are just one. There is more to the idea of rapid prototyping that just the 3D printer.- alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • Which comes first, the 3D printer or the Makerspace? Absolutely 3D printers are part of the Students as Creators vs. Consumers and other important 21st century education innovations. - davidwdeeds davidwdeeds Apr 4, 2016
  • Requires problem-solving, use of math by thinking about measurements and scales, creativity and more! - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Apr 23, 2016
  • - RollandK RollandK Apr 9, 2016 A huge benefit to visual learners.
  • The potential of students creating projects that benefit/serve others in their community.- cbsteighner cbsteighner Apr 9, 2016How cool is this? - mporter mporter Apr 23, 2016
  • This really is about students seeing their work come to life.- alex.podchaski alex.podchaski May 1, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?


  • School in Sydney is having students design a PINBALL machine and 3D print it as they project for the year. Refer to Michael Ha - mrskeeler mrskeeler May 1, 2016
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