3D Printing, Makerspaces, and Exploratory Learning

 In 30 days of education
So you want to get your students making? Great! We are big fans of makerspaces. Open, creative environments where students can investigate, explore, fail, and learn together are vital experiences that all-too-often get overlooked in favor of traditional education. But they’re much more accurate to what students need to be prepared to face in the real world. And they engage students who might not fit the traditional school mold very well, keeping kids in schools and on the track to success. So, how do you get started with this?

There’s a lot of great information out there on how to build your own makerspace in your school and a lot of DIY blogs and magazines stock full of activities you can run with your students. Here are a couple places you might want to check out:

Make Magazine


The important thing is not what fancy tools you use, but that you let the young learners have control over what they’re doing and let them explore and learn on their own. Set up challenges to guide them, but don’t be afraid to let them forge their own path. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how they’re creating these things. Let’s say you’re conducting a build-your-own catapult competition. It doesn’t matter if the students have access to laser printers, CNC machines, and 3D printers, or if they’re stringing together creations out of rubber bands, pencils, and Popsicle sticks. What matters is that they’re rising to engineering challenges.

The more tools you have, the more the students’ creativity will be able to come to life and the more precise their creations will be. That’s one of the benefits of 3D printing. Iterative design is really easy to implement. Students don’t have to start from scratch to adjust a design. If they know how to do their own modeling (and we give a brief tutorial on that earlier in the series), they can simply go back to their original design, make the changes and print it again. Not to mention, 3D printing allows for collaboration across the world. Students can work with makers around the world, sharing files, and designing together to create optimum solutions to real-world problems or fun challenges. And then, once a design is finalized, 3D printing allows for an easy way to mass produce the product. This makes it handy for fundraising, raffle giveaways, and more to fund your making endeavors.

At this point, you might be wondering where MyStemKits.com fits into all of this. Well, for starters, a lot of our kits are designed to be explored rather than taught. Let the students be their own teacher as they discover things about the models with limited teacher guidance. A few great examples of this are below:

Portions of a Whole Kit – Intuitively add and multiply fractions to create sums which equal 1. Simply stack on top of each other and fill in the open cylinder. Students can visually see the relationship between fractions with these coins that are also labeled with decimals and percentages to reinforce the relationship between each.

Blood Type Compatibility Kit – Students can compare donor and recipient cells to determine which types of blood can be donated to others. Simply explain what the pieces of the kit represent and the students will be explaining how it works back to you in no time. (We’ve seen it happen, and trust me – it’s awesome.)

Marble Tracks Kit – Designed to be played with like a toy, this open-ended kit is perfect as a station in an elementary environment. Set up challenges for students, challenge expectations, and let the students discover one or multiple ways to solve the problems.


New York Balance Kit – One of my favorites, this kit explores both proportional reasoning and simple machines but acts like a puzzle toy. Give the students challenges, such as balancing one weight on one side with three on the other without moving the fulcrum – or balancing one weight on one side with three on the other with only moving the fulcrum. Although some of the math is moderately advanced, even elementary students can rise to the challenge and solve the problem. Check out the “aha” moment in the picture below.

And that’s not all we offer. We want the students making, being their own engineers. For those of you with 3D printers, you know all too well how long it takes to create objects. Which is why it may not always be feasible for students to design and print full working prototypes for challenges. Back to our theoretical design-a-catapult challenge. What if you use the Pencil Catapult Kit (which you quite possibly already have classroom sets printed for your physics department) and have the students create an alternate basket design. Maybe the challenge is to make the projectiles fly farther, or higher. Or maybe the challenge is to adapt the basket to fit a ping-pong ball. You decide. But now, the students only have to design one piece. Which makes it much cheaper and faster to do this every year when you can reuse the rest of the Pencil Catapult Kit parts over and over again.

As another example, one of our users in Poinciana used our Wide Meter Stick Ramp Kit as the base for an Egg Cars design challenge. The students had to engineer a vessel which could safely transport an egg down the ramp, which had been adjusted to a nearly-vertical angle.

So what we’re saying is shoot for the moon. Get your students building, creating, making. But consider using the resources available to you with our product to supplement the experience. Because 3D printing is perfect for exploratory learning and makerspaces are all about creating the next generation of engineers. So bring it all together in one challenging, creative environment. It’s the perfect place for STEAM to thrive. For more on developing kits from idea to completion, check out our Behind the Scenes: Idea Development post earlier in this series!

Have a makerspace in your school?
Share tips and tricks for getting started in the comments!

Ready to bring 3D printing into your school in a meaningful way?

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