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3D Printing in Science Classrooms: Helping Students Visualize Scientific Concepts

Over the course of the last decade, 3D printing has come a long way, both in industrial and consumer applications. One use of the technology that isn’t widely known, however, is education. 3D printers in classrooms can be used to introduce students to 3D designs, allow them to explore creative concepts or even provide useful visual aids. Science is one of the subject areas in which the latter use has the most potential. Here are the basics that all science teachers should know about using 3D printers in their classrooms.

Why Are 3D Printers Useful in Science?

When teaching students about science, it’s common to introduce very abstract concepts. For some students, these concepts may be quite easy to grasp, but others may have a difficult time understanding them without adequate visual representation. Although textbook illustrations can be helpful, they are sometimes insufficient or unclear. Research has shown that learning is enhanced when ideas are presented in both abstract and concrete terms to fit the learning styles of different students. This is where a classroom 3D printer can help to fill in the gaps.

By providing a real-life 3D model that students can touch, feel and interact with, a 3D printer can help bring an element of physical reality to otherwise abstract ideas. This, in turn, can help them better learn and engage with the teaching material surrounding those ideas.

Sample Science Activity: 3D Printing Molecules in the Classroom

One of the most obvious ways 3D printing can make abstract concepts more clear is in showing students models of things too small for them to understand visually, such as molecules and atoms. With a 3D model, students can learn directly how atoms are connected to one another in molecular structures, rather than having to try to understand two-dimensional representations on textbook pages. Believe it or not, this use of 3D printing is useful at much higher levels than basic physics and chemistry classes. In fact, some of the world’s leading molecular physicists use advanced 3D printing technology to help them gain insights into molecular structures in much the same way.

The ability of 3D printing to take scientific ideas and make them more understandable is just one of the many ways that this technology is rapidly revolutionizing the classroom. For teachers who want their students to achieve the best possible outcomes with the technologies of the future, a 3D printer can be a teaching tool unlike any other.