Today we’re pleased to bring you part two of a special, two-part interview with Phil Cotton, an award-winning 3D printing educator in the UK. (You can read part one here). 

Phil teaches 3D printing in design and technology at Ladybridge High School in Manchester, runs 3D printing workshops at the University of Manchester for undergraduate teachers, is a learning consultant for the BBC, has won 3D Printshow’s Educational Excellence Award for the past two consecutive years, and is also the founder of 3D Filemarket, which shares 3D design files for 3D printing. 

Question 4: Can you provide some examples of how 3D printing is changing classroom learning?

“The discussions in class are amazing and sometimes I have to pinch myself and think: did a student engage in such a deep level of technical language?

“For example: ‘Sir, I want to add a new workplane to my drawing so I can mirror an extrusion around it, but I am struggling with how much I should offset the workplane from the feature.’

“When a student talks like this to you and they are fifteen years old it’s breathtaking. Other discussions that spring to mind are ones that begin with a question such as, ‘my STL won’t slice, Sir. I need to repair it – what’s the best way?’

“When these events come about it gives a great opportunity for whole class learning. Usually I will stop the class and explain what is happening so all students can be exposed to the learning. A few years ago before we had 3d printing in the classroom this type of learning just did not happen.

“One lesson an Assistant Head teacher came in to see how the kids were getting on with their projects and he was taken aback by how they spoke to each other. In particular, one student was showing another student how to complete a revolve of a profile that she had sketched out. They were speaking at such a technical level that the Assistant Head had no clue at all what they were talking about, but he knew it was good learning as they were so confident in their discussion. This also led to collaborations between students, as when things got tough in lessons they helped each other out.

“Other conversations include talking about companies such as Shapeways and how you can earn money from your designs by selling them. We have also studied current 3d print designers such as Joshua Harker and how he ran a successful kickstarter campaign. As long as they can see the everyday application of 3d printing then they will engage in it.

phil cotton students

Question 5: What advice do you have for classroom teachers who are introducing 3D printing to their students for the first time?

“It is important that 3d printing is introduced correctly to students or they could get disengaged and frustrated as the design and make process can be very challenging.

“In terms of setting up the classroom environment I always ensured that the 3d printer was working away in the back of the class so that students could see the build process during lessons. Also it’s important for each student to have their own workstation (computer) to work at and design. When students have to share resources such as laptops and desktops then the learning is slowed down.”

P23 Phil Cotton

Question 6: What’s the typical response from school students regarding 3D printing?

“Student enthusiasm is high. Students are always keen to hear about anything 3d printed as they see it as the coolest thing in technology at the moment. Also, there is the fact that they know more about the technology then their parents as the only place people can really get experience of the technology first hand is either if you work in the industry or in schools and education. The appetite for 3d printing is growing every day, in all sectors from education, media, sales and downloads from my website.”

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Makers Empire: Better Learning By Design

Makers Empire helps K-8 teachers teach STEM/STEAM concepts, design thinking principles and 21st century learning skills using 3D printing. Our pioneering 3D solutions for schools — 3D Learning Program and Learning by Design Course — include 3D modelling software, over 100 curriculum-aligned lesson plans and professional development. Makers Empire is used by thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students in Australia, the USA, Asia and Europe. Join our community today!

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