16-and-a-Half Ways to Make Use of 3D Printers “In” the College Classroom

Even if your institution can’t approve a 3D printer for your classroom at this very second, you can STILL benefit from this technology that, quite frankly, seems almost too good to be true, or something out of a sci-fi adventure.


  1. We can talk ABOUT the implications of it
  2. Dream of possibilities that could happen in the next five years
  3. Dream of stuff that might not be possible in the next 50 years (or ever)
  4. MATH–Use it as the “star” of a word problem
  5. In a word problem about how many widgets or figurines (etc) it can print per hour
  6. WRITING/ENGLISH/LITERATURE/FILM/ART: Cast it in the starring role of a short film or short story!
  7. In SPEECH (or other discussion/presentation-heavy classes) we can invoke 3D printers in a discussion of “things we can print out to help bring about world peace” (or to end hunger, etc.)
  8. To hook the interest of a chronically-disinterested student
  9. To give a shy student (who’s interested and/or experienced in 3D printing) something to talk about, to ask about, to pursue
  10. To strike up a philosophical discussion
  11. To lead into a discussion of ethics
  12. As an example in philosophy (or math, even), involving the whole replication/self-replication thing that’s been floating around the internet for a few years now. And, of course, we can have our beloved 3D printer simply do what it does best, aka
  13. To print out components of a classroom activity, such as a puzzle or a 3D model
  14. To print out prizes for students–no more disappointment and depression because your taste in prizes was, like, not the bomb biggidy (or rather, the prizes you chose for the kiddies DID bomb. Or tank or however it’s said), no more anger or anguish that you ran out of day-glo dice or magic 8 ball pens (having given the coveted item to their mortal enemy!)
  15. Print out “Classroom Helpers,” such as custom DICE with the name of each student on a different side. (My classes are usually either 19 or 21, so I would need 3-5 dice, depending on how many I have–and how many have the same name. Then, when it’s time to get into groups, no one will feel as though they’ll be chosen last (although if that’s how they usually feel, then they’ll just feel like “oh no, I’ll be with someone awesome who’ll be so upset to be shoved into a group with me! :(:(:(“
  16. Print out all the parts of a model; a machine would work very well, and one that doesn’t require any power to work (i.e. Underwood typewriter) would be particularly thrilling! Then, have the students work in pairs or small groups to:
  • Put the model together according to written instructions
  • Put the model together according to photographs or diagrams
  • Put the model together without any instructions (or instruction)
  • Make the model or machine work before any other group (or student)
  • Leave out one or more seemingly-INSIGNIFICANT pieces (don’t tell the students, though!) and see if they notice, if they’re unable to put it together, if they somehow make or find a suitable replacement, etc. [NOTE: If you have students who are the opposite of easy-going, it would be better to NOT make it a race with other groups and without that missing piece, or else they might freak out.]
  • Print out TWO or more sets of the same machine components and throw an undisclosed (to them) number of extra pieces in. Without instructions (or previous experience with that machine) they will have to use their brains to discover the exact number (of each part) needed, and no more.
  • Print out at least one set of at least two DIFFERENT machines (typewriter and stereo, or two types of typewriter, etc.), mix them up, and let the young inventors learn which parts work together and which ones won’t. 

I’m not quite sure where I got the figure of 16 1/2, but whatever. 

I *am* sure, however, that each idea will be as fun as the last/next. 

(And you can be quite sure that I shall be posting accounts of these nefarious, new experiments. I mean, activities. Once the new term doth begin, of course. 

Speaking of which, do, please, send in your own ideas–or even just anecdotes of what happened when you tried any of these–and I’ll be more-than-glad to share them here, as well :)