Learning from 3D Printing

About a month ago Patrick Honner linked to this video about a 3D printer at his school:

What I found particularly intriguing about this video was the potential educational uses of 3D printing.  Though I’d seen articles here and there about 3D printing, the focus always seemed to be what you could make rather than what you could learn.   The educational possibilities in the Brooklyn Tech video convinced me to get one.   We’ve had it for a little over week and are really having fun learning how to use it.   One of the best resources we’ve found so far is this amazing blog by James Madison University math professor Laura Taalman, aka @mathgrrl:


By coincidence, the Mathematical Association of America just this week released this video where Taalman talks about some of her experiences with students and 3D printing.  Her example about printing a set of Borromean rings was particularly fascinating to me.

Mostly as a result of playing around on the MakerHome blog, we’ve printed several different knots, a Sierpinski tetrahedron, a bunch of different polyhedra and some really neat hinged shapes (and this list is just what’s in front of me on the kitchen table right now!):


We’ve also made a few things on our own after learning from some of the instructions on the MakerHome blog as well as from this helpful video from Wolfram:


For example, from those two sources, and lots of trial and error, we were able to print out a hollowed out cube that illustrates the “Prince Rupert Problem” – a cube is actually able to pass through a second cube of the same size:

Rupert Side By Side

Rupert In

Much like the Brooklyn Tech and Taalman videos suggested, printing this example is filled with great ways for kids to see some interesting math.  I’m really excited to find more fun projects to do with the boys.  I think this is going to be a great tool to help them understand some pieces of math that may have previously been a little out of their reach right now.