Imagine a classroom where biology students can print and learn from 3D cross-sections of cells and organs.

It might sound like something from science fiction, but the technology is already here. In fact, 3D printers have been available since the mid-1990s – and they are now being used to revolutionise education in schools around the world.

What is 3D printing?

In a nutshell, a 3D printer can turn digital files containing 3D data into real, tangible objects.

These files can be created using special software or a 3D scanner, and the printer will build the object layer by layer using a variety of materials, including plastic, metal, plaster, ceramics, glass and even food!

How can 3D printing be used in the classroom?

Teachers around the world are harnessing the educational benefits of 3D printers, and using them to help their students gain a deeper understanding of everything from biology and maths to the arts.

Engineering students can experiment with 3D-printed prototypes, architecture students can inspect 3D models of their designs, history students can hold and examine ‘copies’ of ancient artefacts – the possibilities are almost endless.

How does 3D printing encourage innovation?

Not only can students use this technology to make 3D prints of everything from molecules to robots, but the ease with which they can share the 3D data allows them to learn from each other and collaborate on projects in new and exciting ways.

By enabling students to print out, physically manipulate and test their designs, 3D printers can encourage innovation to an unprecedented degree.

For example, when Jayme Sims lost four of his fingers in a wood-chipper accident, high school students from the Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in Texas built him a new hand based on free designs from the e-NABLE project.

This life-changing prosthetic cost just $50 to produce, and gave the students a meaningful goal for their work.

On the other side of the globe, Quantum Victoria, a specialist science and mathematics centre in Australia, runs events such as the PrintACar competition, where students design and race their own 3D-printed cars. To encourage students to unleash their ingenuity and experiment with unique designs, points are awarded for originality and creativity.

Since its establishment in 2014, the PrintACar competition has captured the imaginations of more than 500 primary and secondary school students from around the state.

Is the future of education in 3D?

In an age where it can be difficult to hold students’ attention, 3D printing is set to be a real game-changer in education.

More than getting students excited about learning, this futuristic technology is helping them develop valuable skills for their careers – and the next generation of designers, artists and scientists are already reaping the benefits.