The 3D Printing Question

I think 3D printing is really cool. The possibilities are endless. I can print my own spare parts, or create my own toys… There have been incredible stories 3D printed bones, or casts to help heal broken bones. There is even a beautiful story about 3D printing helping blind kids “see” their Google search results.

We have 3D printers in Goochland, and I hope to see lots of cool things come out of them. However, I fear 3D printing may turn into a meaningless, routine activity. This would be truly tragic.

Back in early 2012, there were lots of articles about the Smithsonian making 3D-printed replicas of some of its artifacts to lend to other museums. Here is a link to one I read back then. I thought that was really great. I mean, I’d LOVE to see originals in museums, but the practice of displaying replicas of fossils and statues is not new, and 3D printing made this so much more inexpensive and easy. Now there is a new development. The Smithsonian is making the 3D files available for download and printing.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen lots of educators talking about this on Twitter. I know, not everyone has the Smithsonian just 2 hours away like we do. 3D-printed versions of artifacts would be really cool to have. However, once the object is printed, you have to store it. And really, all you did to create it was send the model to the printer. My guess is that it would be a teacher who did this, not a student. So, in addition to transforming printing from “killing trees” to using up resin, how did we improve instruction?

I think it is very generous of the Smithsonian to let us have their 3D models to print in our own classrooms.

I think it would be much more valuable to let students research objects, figure out why they are important, make the case to the class, create their own 3D model, and then print it. In fact, the Smithsonian is already giving us a great starting point with their 100 Objects that Made America. Would your students add any objects? Which of the 100 objects in the book would they replace? Maybe, after researching and deciding as a class, the students could make their own 3D models and have their own museum exhibit. That might be a better learning activity than passing around a piece of plastic.