12 project-based learning lesson ideas using 3D Printing and STEM

Project-Based Learning or PBL is not the same thing as doing projects. There are usually projects involved in project-based learning but the emphasis is much more on the processes that students follow and use, the skills they develop and enhance, the problems they identify and solve and the people they collaborate and learn with.

Project-Based Learning challenges students to use Design Thinking processes to identify real-world problems and generate, develop, test and evaluate designed solutions.

At Makers Empire, we love to see students solving problems and making the world a better place. Plus, we think 3D design and printing provide an ideal platform to support project-based learning. So here are 12 of our favourite ideas for getting started with project-based learning initiatives, in which 3D design and printing are part of the solutions students can develop:

1. Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

Challenge: Calculate your carbon footprint and implement a plan to reduce it.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to create designed solutions such as recycling devices, measurement tools etc.

2. Imagine, Reinvent

Challenge: Support a local business or charity to become more marketable to a younger demographic.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to find new, fresh ways of providing goods and services that appeal to young people.

3. Invent, Innovate

Challenge: Invent something that has never been invented before or innovate on an existing idea in ways that haven’t been thought of before.
Where 3D design and printing is used: as a platform for generating ideas, designing, experimenting, innovating and inventing.

4. The Best of Times

Challenge: Design the best possible society by drawing upon the best ideas from societies of the past.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to collaborate and create a co-constructed, researched-based model.

5. Changing the Universe

Challenge: Visually demonstrate what would happen if one element of a scientific phenomenon was changed e.g. the Earth was smaller, gravity on Mars.
Where 3D design and printing: is used to manipulate, test, evaluate and demonstrate scientific knowledge and understanding.

6. Cross-generational innovation

Challenge: Co-create a game with an elderly person that you can both enjoy and play together successfully, e.g. team up with a resident from a retirement village or aged care facility.
Where 3D design and printing: is used as a platform for collaborating, sharing experiences and skills and strengthening relationships.

7. Tell it like it is

Challenge: Retell a story in the most engaging way possible for a specific audience.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to deliver story telling in multiple modes such as props, characters, setting, interactive designs etc.

8. Bug School

Challenge: Prove that ants, snails or beetles can learn new tricks.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to design training apparatus or tests for observing, monitoring and changing behaviors of minibeasts e.g. mazes and obstacle courses.

9. Problem Detectives

Challenge: Make a positive difference in somebody else’s life.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to create designed solutions for problems identified by individuals.

10. Make it Concrete

Challenge: Define, analyse, visualize and communicate an abstract concept such as harmony, freedom, truth or memory
Where 3D design and printing is used: as a tangible mode for exploring, questioning, expressing and consolidating abstract ideas.

11. Life on Mars

Challenge: Collaboratively plan and design a Martian colony informed by current data and scientific knowledge about Mars.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to collaborate with others and interpret data to inform designed solutions.

12. Move it

Challenge: Enable an object to be moved from one place to another with only one touch from a human hand.
Where 3D design and printing is used: to design and create a connected system based on cause and effect principles such as a Rube Goldberg machine.

Makers Empire’s Lesson Ideas are free, quick and easy ideas to get you started with 3D design and printing. We hope you enjoyed this post.


Mandi Dimitriadis, DipT. is an experienced classroom teacher who recognises the power of technology to enhance teaching and improve educational outcomes. Mandi has extensive experience with curriculum development and learning, having previously developed programs for the Australian Government’s Department of Education. She is passionate about Design Thinking and how best to prepare today’s students for the future.

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