3D printing in education and school

At In the 20th century, the use of the assembly line was considered a great revolution. Suddenly, numerous products could be produced at low cost. At 21st century, a move away from mass production has now emerged. With 3D printing, individual products can be produced at relatively low cost in automated processes.It is likely that this production technology will replace today's assembly line work and become the dominant production process. Even though 3D printing is still rather experimental and not yet widely used today, it is still a great opportunity and a challenge at the same time. In order for children to become familiar with this new technology and to be able to cope better with it later on in their professional lives, it makes sense for it to be integrated in schools.

But how exactly is 3D printing currently taking place in schools and how can it be put to good use? After all, the costs are currently still relatively high and the acquisition of professional 3D printers is associated with high investments. Are these costs justified and do the 3D models offer direct benefits in the classroom? We address these and other questions in this article.

The 3D printing in schools

Digital media should be part of the common learning material in every school. After all, the world is becoming increasingly networked and much takes place digitally. To prepare students for this reality, the use of digital teaching materials is now part of everyday life. These include special whiteboards, tablets or PCs that are used during lessons.

Within this field, 3D printing occupies a special role. While traditional digital media has become widely used, 3D printing is still a very new medium for many schools. The new media are not used as an end in themselves.

They are used as a tool to better teach learning content and introduce students to new technologies. 3D printing can be used in a wide variety of ways and across different disciplines. Especially in art classes, there are a lot of opportunities that should be tapped by schools.

For this reason, it is firmly established in NRW that digital media, including 3D printing, should be used in the classroom. Even if the current use is only possible in individual cases, this is to be expanded in the future.

Opportunities for the school

But why is the high investment in 3D printing worth it for schools?

Basically, the 3D printer is to be used as a learning tool. It should not be seen as a conventional printer that prints out a finished product, but the students should play a major role in the design of the models. Thus, the focus is not only on the finished model, but also on the process that leads to the result. In order to take the complexity of the models into account, completely new models can be designed or existing models can be modified.

The main advantage here is that it is no longer only possible to create two-dimensional images. Whereas previous visualizations were mainly in paper form, three-dimensional models also offer physical touch points.

Students can thus grasp the models and perceive them better. This offers a decisive advantage when spatiality is essential, or when movements are to be tracked.

They are also usually more interesting for students. This means that students pay more attention to the models and follow the lessons better. This increases the learning success and the knowledge can be conveyed better.

Didactical aspects

The spatial imagination and its experiences are a central component for the development of cognitive abilities. When using two-dimensional teaching materials, spatial understanding is hardly promoted.

However, the use of 3D models can promote cognitive development if the use seems appropriate.

In geography classes, for example, maps in 3D model can better show the elevation gradients. This helps students better understand the scale of a mountain range or the depth of the ocean. The spatial idea of length units improves and the map is more tangible for you.

In chemistry, for example, molecules can be represented in three-dimensional space. Students can determine certain processes themselves and better understand why certain reactions of substances lead to the formation of new molecules.

Movement models in physical education show the movements of the joints. The difference between the shoulder joint and the knee joint is better understood and can be better comprehended through practical movement executions on the model.

These are just a few possible uses in the classroom. Here, there are practically no limits to the creativity of the teachers and so the students can actively shape the lessons and better understand the results on the basis of the models. The attention is higher and the students follow the lessons much more purposefully.

The 3D printing in art and technology classes

Most of the benefits of 3D printing occur in art and technology classes. Since art classes are very free-form and students are expected to make their own models, 3D printing is an excellent medium for expressing creativity.

Particular emphasis is placed on the fields of architecture, design or plastic design. As a basis, the students start with sketches, which are further developed to be realized in the result on the 3D printer. For a more in-depth design, computer support is useful. Thus, students combine both hand-drawn sketches and computer-generated models.

In technology classes at either secondary or vocational schools, more complex topics can be illustrated and simplified using 3D printing. Here, for example, CAD programs can help to create the models and realize them in print. Here, the models are not only used for illustration, but the functions can also be tested. In this way, it can be seen directly whether the model is still in need of improvement or can already be used in a fully functional way. This promotes the use of CAD programs and spatial thinking skills.

But what existing examples show how 3D printing can be used in the classroom and what are the benefits?

More creativity through 3D printing

In Australia, the use of 3D printers in so-called “makerspaces” at schools focusing on STEM subjects has been underway for some time. This allows for a better discussion of the impact and success of the new technology. To see what the benefits of 3D printers are, 27 teachers and over 500 students participated in a large study to discuss the impact of 3D printers in the classroom.

The study spanned one year and began in August 2017. The basis of the study was the use of Makers Empire modeling software.

Students freely designed the models themselves using the software and then 3D printed them. Here, the study concludes that students' creativity, critical thinking, and digital skills improved.

What stands out here is that lower-performing students were able to improve their self-confidence and critical thinking. As a result, you have become better integrated into the class group and the overall learning atmosphere has improved.

However, there are advantages not only for the students, but also for the teachers in dealing with the new technology. As a result, the teachers are now more confident in using the 3D printers and generally more open to new technologies. Collaboration with students has also improved. Because through the entire process of creating a 3D model, teachers get to know students better and can better address individual needs. So there's much more of a collaboration happening and not frontal teaching.

More than 90 percent of the students also indicated that they would be very interested in using 3D printing, or at least design, even after their schooling. Some of the students can also imagine using 3D printing later in their professional lives.

School lunch from the printer

3D printers are more known for processing models and other materials. These are not edible and are more of interest as a visual object.

However, as a novelty, there are also more and more 3D printers that are approved for food use. With the help of these printers can be made, for example, pancakes and other simple dishes. Among them, for example, chocolate or even pizza.

At one school in East London, 3D printer dishes are being used to inspire more students to pursue STEM careers. The shortage of skilled workers is a major problem for companies, which are desperately looking for well-trained engineers. This creative solution is designed to help more students pursue this career path.

Specifically, this example is about St. Helen's Elementary School. At this one, students can print out the food themselves on the 3D printer. Thus, chips, fish and hexagonal beans can be printed.

The children are to be introduced to the new technology in this way. With great success, as a survey among the students showed. A large majority, for example, is in favor of increasing the use of 3D printers in regular classes.

But St. Helen's in east London is not the only example of food from the 3D printer. In the Netherlands, there is an entire restaurant that specializes in 3D printer food. Numerous researchers from China and South Korea are also working to ensure that even more food can be created from 3D printers in the future. So it is conceivable that in the future very individual meals can be created and that soon only such printers will be responsible for serving food in the school cafeteria.

Workshops for pupils

Since modern technology is not yet firmly integrated into everyday life at schools, many students are given access via special workshops. With the help of these, intensive contact can take place at these events, which last several days.

Within the workshops, students learn the complete handling, from the creation of the model to the printing. The objects, such as pen holders or other models, can be taken home afterwards.

The integration of certain scanning techniques is also particularly advantageous. For example, knight's armor can be scanned and then printed as a small model. This gives students their first exposure to this modern technology.

In most cases, this collaboration is based with specific fab labs that provide the equipment and lead the workshop. But universities also offer such workshops. For interested school classes, this is an excellent opportunity to use the technology of the future, even if the school does not yet have the appropriate equipment.


3D printing is fondly referred to as the revolution of the 21st century and is said to have an impact on manufacturing similar to the introduction of the assembly line. It is therefore only understandable that schoolchildren are already being introduced to this promising technology. After all, this is the new generation that will most likely be working with 3D printers in the future workplace.

In schools in Germany, the adoption of 3D printers is still rather subdued. After all, this involves high investments and the use of digital media is on all curricula, but implementation is still slow.

The situation is different in other countries. Here, practical results and studies show that integrating 3D printing and models can increase creative skills and critical thinking. Students follow the subject matter more attentively and learning success is noticeably improved. This makes it easier to illustrate even complex issues such as specific joints and their movements.

Other points of contact are in the canteen, where the use of 3D printers is intended to arouse interest in this technology. Simple dishes can be printed out completely.

In conclusion, many experts assess that it is only a matter of time before 3D printers are part of everyday life in schools. After all, these can significantly simplify teaching and learning content.