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Thursday, October 15, 2015

3D Printers and Math Education

Will I be able to create a proportionally correct base-ten model that students can touch and explore to better understand the value differences between .001 and 100. Let's see. 
A few years ago the creative teacher next door at the elementary school where I teach introduced me to the 3D printer. This teacher who stays on top of new technology is continually amazed at new technology and invention. Her enthusiasm is contagious. That year we wrote a grant to acquire a 3D printer, but the grant didn't make it past leaders in charge of tech grants who weren't ready to support a 3D printer at an elementary school at that time.

Now three years later, I have an opportunity to use a 3D printer. Recently, as an adjunct instructor, I attended the University orientation. During the orientation one professional after another introduced their services and asked the question, "Let us know how we can help you?" Wow, I thought,  a whole team of professionals from technology, library services, and more ready to support my efforts with the University students.

As I listened, I wondered how I could access these people and services to help me develop students' knowledge related to teaching and learning in new and exciting ways. That's when I asked, "Do you have a 3D printer?" The response was yes, and we're anxious to use the printers with students. What an opportunity, I thought.

Now, several weeks later, I finally had a chance to learn about the 3D printer first hand with one of the University tech specialists. He, like the colleague next door, demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm and knowledge about the device. He showed me prints that he and his colleagues had made, introduced me to related software, and demonstrated me how the printer worked as he created a small, plastic ghost. It was amazing to watch this new technology, and  this enthusiastic technologist also agreed to come to my University class to introduce the printer to students.

Now I've got some homework to do.

First, I want to think about what I can design and print that will further my students' math knowledge and learning. I think I'll try to create a 3D model of the base-ten system. It's hard to create a 2D model that correctly demonstrates the correct proportions related to the place differences between .001 and 100. I may not even be able to to it with the 3D printer, but I'm going to play around with it with Tinkercad or Sketch-up. I'm also going to ask my students what advice they have for my 3D exploration as I imagine several of them have experienced this machine at the local library and other locations. I'll read and study more about the process too as well its math applications. Another creation I thought of making was dice with raised 2D geometric shapes. I would use the dice for a geometry game that helps students learn the similar and different attributes of 2D figures.

As I continue to consider this new medium, I'll explore the math concepts that benefit from 3D models rather than 2D models, concepts for which I don't have good manipulatives for demonstration or exploration.  Further my University students who have chosen the 3D printer as the object of their semester "lifelong learning project" will engage in a similar exploration.

Do you use a 3D printer in your teaching/learning organization? If so, what is the focus of this use and exploration? Where do you see the use of 3D printers going with regard to elementary school education? If you have a 3D printer at your elementary school where is it and how do you use it?

I almost cancelled my meeting yesterday with the University tech department as I wondered if I was ready to take on another new learning project, yet when I met with the enthusiastic technologist and his colleagues, I remembered why I love exploration and investigation so much. New learning revitalizes learning and opens up new paths to understanding, collaboration, and growth. It's a vital element to the work we do as teachers and learners. Onward.

Related Article
This article was posted later on the same day I wrote this post and it offers lots of good information to consider with regard to 3D printing.