How to Teach 3d Printing in a Middle School STEM Class

Middle school is an amazing time for kids to start 3D printing.

Cheap 3D printers and design software that runs in a Chromebook browser make it easier than ever to dive into the world of 3d printing in the classroom! You can be an expert in teaching 3D printing with just a bit of practice! As long as you have internet-connected devices, all middle school STEM programs can include 3D design (and hopefully printing!).

Students are absolutely thrilled to design and print toys, gifts, custom parts, and parts for larger projects. This page is to help teachers get started designing and printing in the classroom.

Things you should know going into teaching 3D printing in your STEM Lab

Designing can be done by more students than you think: my twin boys were designing simple objects (rockets, trucks, fish) at 5 years old.

You can get started 3D designing on a Chromebook or anything with an internet browser. TinkerCAD is free and the most middle school student-friendly software available.

You do not have to have a 3D printer for learning to be valuable, nor do you have to print everything that is designed. Kids can create all kinds of things and keep them as screenshots.

One 3D printer will be very busy with a class of creators. Most schools buy one expensive printer but I prefer a fleet of cheap printers. The downside to cheap printers is more maintenance and repairs.

You’ll have to learn how to use free slicing software to process the kids’ creations. These need to be set up for your specific printer(s). Once everything is set up, the process gets much simpler.

Everything about the above points is time-consuming but worth it. Once you get started, it gets easier to

If you see your students for multiple years, kids will need a lot of help coming up with ideas that are beyond the initial, basic ideas that they have the first year. That is what Innovate Arts is all about!

How to teach 3d printing

It will take a few days to get kids familiar with the software. This Youtube playlist has the basics that I go through with my students.

Here is an example video:

Video #7 – Extra Practice

I developed the sequence of lessons over the past few years with my own students and have a lot of fun with kids. It is a fun challenge to keep kids engaged after they have designed and printed a couple of projects and the process of 3D printing has been demystified.

Here is what is included in the complete lesson plan document:

Teaching 3D Printing – Outline of Included Lessons

Section 1: Getting Familiar (each lesson includes an in-depth video explanation)

  • Getting Started and Controls
  • Using the Workplane
  • Grouping, solids, holes and color
  • Other collections and Shape Generators
  • Tools: Align, Flip, and Snap Grid
  • Cool tool: Duplicate
  • Practice and More Practice

Section 2: For Teachers – Getting Your Students Designing (each lesson includes a video explanation)

  • Lesson Sequences
  • Student Handouts  (Both filled in and not filled in)
  • Design Criteria for First Projects 
  • Turning in Projects 
  • Common Student Issues and FAQ 
  • Extra Resources

Sign up on the homepage or in the below for access to the free resources and lesson plans!