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Practical 3D Printing Applications

3D Printing

If someone told me five years ago that, in 2017, I would be using a 3D printer every week (if not every day), I would’ve laughed out loud. The fact of the matter is, 3D printing has come a LONG way from when it first launched: the tech has gotten smarter, the prices have gotten cheaper, and we’ve developed a more open-mindset to using items like 3D printers within a school building.

Now that the hype of using a 3D printer has become a bit more mainstream, and we’ve moved beyond “making just to make”, how do we actually implement a 3D printer into a school district: a classroom, a library, a tech lab, et al? What are some practical applications to using a 3D printer that will ultimately benefit teaching and learning? Here are some practical suggestions for using a 3D printer within your district.

Visually Impaired Students

The act of printing off a 3D manipulative for a visually impaired (VI) student instead of simply describing something in a textbook is very beneficial to VI students. For example, when you teach using a graph, why not scan that graph in and print off a physical representation? Showing the class a logo or a sign? Print it off for the VI student to manipulate with their hands. Print braille accessibility signs for your school. Think it takes too much work? Maybe, at first. But like anything, you have to start somewhere. I have used this tutorial to convert a 2D image into a 3D STL file ready for printing. Note: .STL is the standard file for 3D printers, just like a .PDF or .JPG. This is also a great project/challenge for students who may need an extension activity in your classroom.

Visually impaired student physical manipulative of school logo

Breakout EDU Accessories

If you’re like me, you loathe the directional locks used in many Breakout EDU games. You are also annoyed that the new kits come with different letter locks than the standard Master Word Lock and are proprietary to Breakout@ EDU. The solution is a lot more simple than it looks! Using these locks, you can print this file created by Andy Wallace (awallace919) and forever eliminate most need for a true directional lock. You can also swap out those letters and create any word  you may actual need for game play. Do a quick search on thingiverse.com (the new “Pinterest”) and you’ll find many options for Breakout EDU game play additions, including clues, hasps and logo stencils.

Breakout EDU 3D Printed Lock Rings

Missing Game Pieces

Have you ever had to recycle a board game because the pieces were missing? Too often, right? Instead, print off new pieces as you need them using a 3D printer! Most often, a file has already been created to help you (Monopoly, Checkers, Sorry), but you can also teach your kids about the metric system and engineering design process to create their own board game pieces (and millions of other ideas) using tinkercad.com.

School Store Spirit Wear

Print off keychains, necklaces, bracelets, pencil toppers and more with your 3D printer and sell them in your school store! Have students submit designs, run contests for new designs and integrate your marketing and business classes for profit calculations based on filament costs and print weights. Example: If a 1kg spool of filament costs $17.99, your print takes .00071kg of filament and you price it at $1.50, that can be quite lucrative for your school store and a great teaching point for the kids! 

Ida High School Student creates Ida 3D keychain in design software

Engineering Design Process

These are all great, but how does a teacher actually integrate a 3D printer into his/her classroom effectively and with purpose? Recently, I attended a wonderful professional development that was put on by the REMC Classroom Makers project. They brought up many fascinating resources for 3D printing in the classroom! City X Project uses the design process and 3D printing to teach students about creation and creative problem solving. Thingiverse Education provides a plethora of lessons from which to draw. Brookwood School in Manchester, Massachusetts created a 3D Design Problem Bank for teachers to utilize for their classrooms. All of these resources are FREE!

Airport Community Schools’ students use tinkercad to develop 3D projects

As with anything new, it takes time to implement a 3D printer into your school. 3D printing mastery doesn’t happen overnight for most of us and there will be some hiccups along the way. The most important part of the equation to getting started to meaningful integration is a willingness to open yourself up to trying, and then jumping in!


Kerry Guiliano (@kerryguiliano): Kerry is a former Spanish and technology teacher. She is currently a technology coach at Monroe County ISD. She can be reached via email at