Going from STEM to STEAM, Transforming Education with 3D Printing

For the last couple years, the importance of STEM (Science, Technology. Engineering, and Mathematics) education has become more evident as schools find ways to prepare students for their future careers. As this educational endeavour progresses, another movement is also gaining momentum and is being spearheaded by several educational institutions across the country — STEAM education — where the arts are integrated into STEM curricula.

Education Closet, a digital learning hub for Arts Integration and STEAM, defines the movement as “an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.” Many proponents of STEAM believe that incorporating arts into the conventional STEM curriculum increases the appeal of said subject areas to students and further supports the collaboration and development of a student’s creative thinking.

“The integration of arts into the STEM curriculum is extremely important,” explains Steven Jones, STEAM facilitator at Hauser Junior High School. Located in Riverside, Illinois, the school offers STEAM design classes that focus on activities related to engineering design process, a problem-solving method in which art and creativity plays a key role in.

“When students work through the various stages [of the design process] in order to create a solution to a problem or frustration, they need to quickly communicate ideas in a visual manner through sketching. Later on, they must create physical prototypes at an appropriate scale using cardboard before moving into a CAD program. Students learn that product engineers may go through hundreds of sketches and prototypes before settling on the best design for a future product. By working through the engineering design process, students learn how to iterate, persevere, and make connections between art, math, and science.”

But how do schools integrate art in their STEM education, promoting creative thinking? One method that is gaining much popularity is the use of the emerging technology of 3D printing.

“By successfully learning about 3D printing, students become more resilient and are more likely to seek more challenges in the future.”

As schools design STEAM curricula that will enhance the problem-solving and creative thinking skills of students, they are also starting to bring 3D printing into their classrooms to help them achieve these goals. Giving students the opportunity to create a real-life model allows them to better understand abstract and complex concepts in science and mathematics which may otherwise be difficult to grasp. This access to compelling visual aids via 3D printed objects allows students to have a closer observation and better analysis of such concepts, resulting in a deeper understanding and a higher level of classroom engagement.

Another crucial benefit that 3D printing brings into the classrooms is its ability to support the way in which students learn engineering design processes. It enables educators to teach students how to apply art in real-world situations, as well as the value of learning from mistakes. For instance, Jones shares with us that at Hauser, the inclusion of 3D printing in their class allow students to become more resilient when looking for solutions to problems:

“At Hauser, two of the many ideas that we want students to walk away with is learning how to collaborate and how to follow through on creating solutions to problems, regardless of the number of attempts it takes,” Jones says. Through 3D printing, iterations become faster and painless, and students remain optimistic and persistent even when their initial designs fail. Further, students learn the value of peer feedback and how to examine and validate their designs by seeing the tangible results of what they have created.

“Students take great pride in learning how to revise failed models and provide input on what changes to make in the slicer Cura to improve their final designs. By successfully learning about 3D printing, students become more resilient and are more likely to seek more challenges in the future.”

According to a study conducted by Michigan State University, researchers found out that there’s a significant correlation between an individual’s participation in arts and crafts activities during childhood to the patents and businesses they lead in adult life. This illustrates the importance of arts in the development of skills, knowledge, and interests of students. Utilizing technologies such as 3D printing facilitates this diverse learning process and transforms education, helping students secure their future and prepare them to become a competitive workforce in a modern economy.

6th grade furniture design printed on Type A Machines Series 1 Pro. Image courtesy of Hauser Junior High School.

A prototype for a digital organizer printed on Series 1 Pro. Image courtesy of Hauser Junior High School.

Originally published at www.typeamachines.com.

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