I am quite excited for the burgeoning marriage of the 3D printer and the project-based learning method. As covered in my post on the future of education technology, 3D printing may play a larger role in the future of PBL. As the costs of these printers continue to come down, students will be able to use these devices to create otherwise inaccessible objects. This has the capability to empower the imagination and critical thinking of the youth.
There have been some interesting examples of the potential of 3D printing, but a recent project from Grand Valley State University (MI) is a splendid demonstration of the possibilities. Two engineering students took advantage of a design course based in PBL to help a 17-month-old girl with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Because of the condition, the girl faces challenges moving her arms. The engineering students used 3D printing to design an exoskeleton device that neutralizes the weight of the girl’s arms, making it easier for her to move them.
The students cited the benefits of 3D printing for such a project, including the ability to make complex, custom parts and the economic feasibility. The result: the girl uses the device to feed herself, write, and more. It’s truly an amazing development.
While this example is from the University setting, the combination of creativity, critical thinking, and the affordances of 3D printing married with PBL is something that is being tested in K12 as well. We are not quite at the point where this is a regular occurrence in schools, but I look forward to the future and what’s possible in the hands of youth everywhere.