The US is making efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. As a science teacher, I am always looking for new ways to help my diverse class of students. Thanks to 3D printing it is now possible to make affordable models of complex ideas in science. Traditionally schools had to save up and fund raise to purchase science equipment from specialty companies. But with school funding stagnant, science teachers are often stuck making equipment from craft supplies, or buying them out of their own pocket. The budget this year for my science class is around $200, to use for around 50 students.
Another problem in science education comes when we teach complex topics like genetics to our students. Most curriculum for genetics are based from the textbook and videos. For students that are not visual learners, DNA becomes a foreign language. In my high school bio class, many of my students are kinesthetic learners. They need hands-on labs and activities to remember the lessons.
“I CAN PRINT THAT!!! ”
The 16 year old biology textbook we use had an activity to make a model of DNA with paper cutouts. Like all 3D printers, when I saw that I said the mantra of many 3D printers, “I CAN PRINT THAT!!! ”
After a couple hours in TinkerCAD, I took the textbook design and turned it into 3D printable building block set that can be found here.
After 3D printing and testing the DNA set, I realized that I had something I could build on in the future. The beauty of 3D printing is that a teacher can quickly build more content into their 3D printed creations. This lead me to submit my DNA set to the Thingiverse MakerEdChallenge.
Any teacher can tell you that a lesson plan is good until the students show up. As I started the class, it was clear they were interested in the DNA set that I made. As I had them model DNA, I could tell that they were enjoying the feel of the tiles and how they assembled into DNA. They modeled DNA, RNA transcription, and protein synthesis with the set, and I was amazed at how quickly they were able to do it without guidance from me.
The students continued to impress me with how quickly they learned from manipulating the DNA tiles. As I challenged them further, they were able to solve the problems through the DNA tiles.
Over the next couple of classes I expanded upon the original set. I wanted my students to practice transcribing mRNA into amino acids, so I designed an amino acids expansion set.
Another students asked about gene splicing and the film Jurassic World. My first thought was “Rock ON!!!”.
Then I realized in the teachable moment I could expand on the DNA set further to make a set of restriction enzymes.
DATA Driven results
The next week I had the students demonstrate their knowledge with the DNA set. They were able to build a model of DNA, transcribe it to RNA, and produce a protein from it. All without a word of correction from me. As a teacher those moments of comprehension are valuable.
3D Printing for Teachers
3D printing is an amazing tool for Teachers. They can make models of complex science ideas. Another positive is that teachers can quickly replace lost and stolen parts, or make more if their class size increase. These models can then be stored or shared with other science teacher. There are whole catagories on file sharing sites for education.
Thingiverse has even hosted design challenges for education, including the recent MakerEd challenge.
Teachers can 3D print replacement parts for items that the school can no longer find. As a teacher I’ve been driven mad by lost projector lens caps, tape dispensers, and pencil boxes.
Teachers can also share their work freely with the world. Free is a teachers favorite world, and thanks to file sharing sites, teachers can find the files for anything they need in class.
Teachers also benefit from 3D printing by differentiating to learning styles in class. They can now use 3D printed items to help kenisteic learners, and Special Education students. Now they can show to parents and administrators that they are fulfilling their legal obligations in class with 3D printed items and lessons.
3D printing for Students
Students stand to benefit the most from 3D printing. For them 3D printing is accessible and easy to use. With 3D printers in schools and public libraries, students are learning how to make their own items in school. They are also combining 3D printing with other technologies.
Students also benefit when teachers use 3D printed models to demonstrate complex ideas. STEM is quickly adopting 3D printing as a major tool in education. Students also benefit from using 3D printed models in the classroom.