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TPACK and 3D Printing

3D printed head with helmet - Studying Concussions in Football

Last summer I spent a lot of time thinking about 3D printing and learning. This was spurred on by the #MakerEDChallenge2 on the Thingiverse. The basic goal was to either create new designs that could be used as projects in an educational setting or to re-purpose old designs.

Some of my entries were brand new things, but many were not. I realized that almost all of the things I’ve posted to the Thingiverse were created for some educational purpose. Many of these were for student centered labs or projects, but they were not 3D printing projects.

I’ve really only done a couple projects where I’ve had students designing and printing their own things (Wind Turbines, Phone Holder). Then I had a realization. Not all projects that involve a 3D printer need to be 3D printing projects. This revelation reminded me of TPACK.

3D Printed blades
3D printed windmill blades from Wind Turbine Project

TPACK is Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge. One of the main take aways is that we, in education, often look for ways to “Integrate Technology” into the curriculum. At best, this is sloppy thinking. At worst it can lead to lower outcomes. TPACK offers a different way of thinking.

Some of my education professors often said things like, “Content is King,” and, “Good teaching is good teaching. What works well in one area will work in any content area.” I believe thinking this way is just as sloppy as, “Integrate Technology.”

TPACK really builds on the older idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge. The gist of PCK is that it is important to know the best techniques to use to teach your particular content, different ways of teaching will be better suited for different types of content. This seems obvious, but we often seem to forget it.

When we toss in the “T”, we’re saying the technology tools we have available give us new ways of teaching that simply weren’t available before. So rather than integrating 3d printing for the sake of 3d printing ask, “How does having a 3D printer in my room allow me to enhance old lessons or create new ones that would not have been possible before?”

Acceleration lab apparatus
Acceleration lab model project

With a 3D printer in my room, I as the teacher can create things that make it easier for students to ask and investigate questions that would have been:

My printer also gives me the ability to do projects with my students that let them:

Never ask the question, “How can I incorporate a 3D printer into my curriculum?” Instead you should think about, “What is possible now that a 3D pinter is in my classroom?” The distinction is subtle, but it is also powerful.


(@falconphysics): Steve is the MACUL President Elect. He runs the 1:1 iPad program at Divine Child High School along with teaching Computer Science.