There are two means of incorporating 3D printing into a homeschool plan. One, of course, is by getting a 3D printer for your home. (More on that later.) A simpler means is through a veritable wealth of amazing pre-made models to be found by the clever makers who post on Repables, YouMagine, or Thingiverse. All of these models are free to download and print at home. Many of the resources can be used in unit studies, as supplemental material to your curriculum, or can just be cool things to strew around the house for the interested to find and explore.
If your kids are teenagers, let them find and print the models themselves (some are more complicated than others). If your kids are younger, as most of mine are, print them and bring them out during a lesson on history or science. My kids love to ask both about the object and how it was printed. Bingo, simultaneous lesson in 3D printing and dinosaurs. Here are some examples of how we used 3D printing in different subjects:
1. Geography – You would never believe the number of map puzzles, 3D maps, national crests and parts of actual land that can be 3D printed. Remember the correlation between geography and other areas of study and pull it all together in one go — politics, history, and even map making.
2. Mathematics – There’s truly something for everyone. Little kids benefit from manipulatives, and tactile models, such as those at Numicon. Older kids can map and print equations, build their own Platonic or Archimedean polygons, create their own sudoku, or practice with a math spinner.
3. Science – Everything from biology to physics can be explored through 3D printing. The American Museum of Natural History has realistic dinosaur models available. You can print the lunar crater Tycho, or the mountains on Mars. There’s an amazing molecular model set, a soda bottle water rocket and a printable robotic arm.
4. History – Abraham Lincoln, Darwin, Athena (from the Parthenon), a doric temple, the Pyramids at Giza, a sabertooth cat or Leif Erikson’s ship are just a few of the historic figures and features you can print. I even found an adze and several other traditional tools.
You can take it even further with the second means of using 3D printing in homeschooling — getting your own printer. Get a curriculum or some downloaded models and teach your kids a skill that will have increasing value as they grow older. They will learn critical thinking skills, electronics, 3D modeling, chemical properties of plastics, and the physics of printed objects. I am even aiming for some practical programming skills for my kids.