My overview of the whole process to teach 3D printing:
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 as you start to teach 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
Start with learning how to 3D design. Lesson plans included on this page.
Designing can be done by more students than you think – my youngest students made some cool stuff (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. Start here before you begin to teach 3D printing.
You do not have to have a 3D printer for this 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 keep it running.
What software do I need to 3D print in my classroom?
Here is my video on advanced Cura settings. You’ll start to play with these as you start to get experience.
Here is what is included in the complete lesson plan document:
Teach 3D Printing – Outline of Included Lessons to get started
These are my lessons on starting 3D design.
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
The most difficult thing that I needed to overcome as I started to teach 3D printing in my classroom was to design and print standalone objects. Students were disappointed with the size and quality of the ‘toys’s that they were printing. Finally, I learned to have the 3D printer augment other projects. Carboard masks, or popsicle stick projects are perfect for a 3D printed character. We make a larger project out of other materials and use the printer to make the small, detailed part that is the focus of the project.
3D printing is not as difficult as or as expensive as it seems. You will need to learn how to fix the printers. But besides that, it is pure fun!