The Department for Education (DfE) is running a small trial to investigate the use of 3D printing technologies in teaching mathematics, physics, computer science and engineering and design. The pilot will enable schools to explore innovative ways of teaching using these technologies, and to find ways of making scientific and mathematical ideas easier to teach and understand.
21 schools have been selected from 40 top performing maths and science schools who submitted short proposals on how they would use the 3D printers across the relevant subject areas. The schools all received a Makerbot printer, consumables and access to training.
The project will run until September 2013, and is being managed by the Institute of Physics (IoP) and the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) with support from the Design and Technology Association.
Charles Tracy, head of education at the Institute of Physics, explained the exploratory nature of this exciting project:
“The Institute is very pleased to be working with the DfE and The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) on this pilot project. This is an exciting technology and we are hoping that, in the hands of subject experts, we will find some imaginative ways of using it to help teaching and learning in physics.”
The project kicked off with a seminar at the DfE in October 2012 where participating schools got to meet each other and hear more about the pilot project. They also got to meet the folks at MakerBot, and hear from peers who are already using 3D printing in schools. The schools are expected to report regularly on their progress throughout the trial’s duration, and it is also hoped that the pilot will encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas in this area between schools, provide a better understanding of ways this technology can be used in teaching and help identify barriers that need to be overcome.
This is an important consideration, as highlighted in the recent Decoding Learning report on digital education by the UK innovation charity NESTA. The research, conducted by the Institute of Education, showed that “one the best ways people can learn is by making and sharing things”. However, the report also points out that although innovations in ‘technology-supported learning’ shows great potential, this can only be fulfilled if “those required to use that technology are also supported”. So it will be interesting to see whether the findings from the DfE backed pilot helps address this potential barrier to the adoption of 3D printing for teaching in schools.