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MakerBot: The catalyst for super-innovation in education (Includes interview and first-hand account)

There’s a back story to my interest in MakerBot. I wrote a blog, in which I said “Arguably, no generation in history has been as totally screwed” in reference to Generation Z, and the future children of the Millennials. I got a response from a charming lady called Sera, who introduced me to MakerBot, as a contrast to the dithering, outdated educational sinkholes we have today.
Sera also introduced me to Mair DeMarco, MakerBot Education Manager and Instructional Designer. I had some questions for Mair, and below you’ll see the fascinating, not to say incredible tale of MakerBot, how it works, and for educators, how to sign up for MakerBot.
About MakerBot
MakerBot is an integrated educational process. It offers fabulous chances for students to really learn all the fundamentals of STEM. STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, with which the world of the future will be in symbiosis with technologies.
Consider this as a menu for any type of education:
• Using all these very important core technologies at school and becoming as fluent with them as grade school kids are with smart phones.
• Learning the essentials of STEM for future education in god only knows how many different fields, in multiple contexts and applications.
• Practical development of skills and cross-disciplinary applications.
• Creative learning, put in to practice, with physical products created using 3D printing.
• The process is the hands-on way for kids to fully experience a vast range of tech, CAD, engineering, maths, and design.
Experienced educators won’t need to be told the incredibly high values of this model of teaching. It’s ultra-effective, fully credible, and it’s off the scale in terms of relevance to the needs of future generations.
I’m not going to try to “interpret” MakerBot. See the MakerBot website here, and read Mair’s truly fascinating responses to my (admittedly somewhat awestruck) questions.
Educators please note: Mair has packed in a lot of useful links and insights in to this interview, for which I am truly thankful, and you’ll find some excellent cross references, too.
MakerBot seems to be a very holistic way of approaching both 3D printing and all the related processes in design. Can you give us an example of a typical educational design process?

The hardware used by Montlclair. Efficient  space-friendly  AND affordable? If it seems too good to ...

The hardware used by Montlclair. Efficient, space-friendly, AND affordable? If it seems too good to be true – Something was bound to go right sometime.

It feels weird to describe a “typical” 3D printing project or lesson plan; primary schools just started getting access to the technology 5 years ago, and even then most educators had no idea how to implement them.
When they first popped up in makerspaces and classrooms, a typical 3D printing lesson plan would substitute a 3D printed part for a wooden or plastic part that you’d expect to see in an arts and crafts environment. For example, a teacher might ask students to 3D print previously designed wheels for a pinewood derby car. The 3D printer is replacing some parts, adding an element of futurism and increasing student engagement, but not dramatically changing the lesson.
Then, as instructors gradually carved out best practice on how to introduce 3D design and CAD learning objectives into existing lessons, more deeply integrated projects appeared. The challenge was to not just use a 3D printer as an interesting plastic factory, but to use it to teach design principles like iterative thinking. 3D printers began to be used to modify and redefine classic projects, like the bridge project or the C02 car project. Instead of carving a body and wheels from a wooden block, students must learn critical CAD skills to create their own basic forms and 3D print them.
But the CAD skills, as valuable as they are in a STEM economy, are only half the puzzle. A 3D printer gives classrooms the ability to rapidly iterate on and redesign their projects. Once students have a 3D design in hand, good projects will task them with testing and learning from their first attempt, then redesigning and reprinting. This is the design thinking that 3D printers can uniquely unlock for students.
There are a few “technology integration” models that describe the way things like computers and tablets make their way into classrooms and how quickly they affect them. I think the SAMR model best describes the journey 3D printers are taking. In this order, SAMR – Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. The first two steps are early enhancements, while the last two represent a transformation in the sort of lessons that are possible in a classroom.
MakerBot’s ability to integrate the different processes in design and construction is a key factor in the overall educational effects. Are there options for experimentation, innovation, etc.?
One of the best parts about a 3D printer in a lesson is the element of customization it can offer. Not just customization for students to pursue different solutions to the same challenge, but for educators to adapt the technology and lessons to their specific need.
We recently wrote a book (the MakerBot Educators Guidebook) that includes classroom-ready lesson plans for 3D printing educators. One of the lessons asks students to design a building in Tinkercad that can withstand a flood, asking students to explore buoyancy, different geometries, mass, surface tension, etc. As it’s written, it works best for grades 2-6. But with very little alteration (like swapping Tinkercad for a more advanced CAD software, and changing the challenge from water to something like weight tolerance) it can be suitable for grades 10-12 and apply to several different subjects.
There’s always room for innovation in the way 3D printers are used in classrooms. I see awesome, totally novel projects from our users every day. Some of the most fascinating to watch develop are the design + entrepreneurship lessons that take advantage of a 3D printer as a rapid prototyping tool and ask students to develop viable products that address a challenge.
What are the deliverables from MakerBot in terms of future education, career development, and practical experience in the various fields of design and production?
The massive focus of STEM and project-based learning in primary education has made 3D printers a great fit for K-12. But the same real-world benefits of CAD and design thinking skills have made the technology valuable for vocational education as well.
In every industry from automotive to consumer electronics, we see big companies using their resources to equip really cool 3D printing and digital design/manufacturing centers to train their employees. Germany has a well-established vocational training system where companies like Mercedes-Benz take on students for 1-2 year technical skills programs before then passing them off to partner universities to finish their bachelor’s degrees. Most of the United States’ vocational programs exist in community colleges at the associate’s degree level, but even those design and manufacturing courses have begun heavily implementing 3D printing.
Is MakerBot easy to introduce in to schools? Is there a setup phase, or any special requirements for a school to use MakerBot?
MakerBot makes putting 3D printers in schools easier than any other provider. The printers are the most reliable and easy to use on the market. We’re the only company to write two manuals for 3D printing education, offer a massive database of 3D printing lesson plans on Thingiverse Education, and offer in-house, U.S.-based support. There’s no special setup or requirement for putting a MakerBot 3D printer in a classroom.
The MakerBot Educators Guidebook
Thingiverse Education (400+ projects and counting!)
What sort of support does MakerBot offer for schools?
MakerBot has the largest 3D Printing Community. Teachers can visit Thingiverse Education to browse hundreds of lesson plan ideas, share best practices, and connect with experts. Educators also have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from the community of MakerBot Educators helping to shape the future of STEM education.
We also have chat, email, and phone support available from experts in 3D printing implementation. They support more teachers and schools than any other group in the country, and resolve over 90% of cases in less than 3 days.
Any educator would ask – What sort of cost is involved in introducing MakerBot?
Funding 3D printers and makerspaces can be difficult, and there are plenty of deserving schools who have a hard time justifying an expensive tool like a printer. To help them out, we wrote a 2018 Grant Guide that lists dozens of grants for different institutions and applications
Getting started with MakerBot would cost $1,300 for a Replicator Mini+ and $2,500 for a Replicator+. The software and support are free, and schools can expect to spend another $200-300 a year on filament if they use their printers frequently. We’re sensitive to the fact that price can be a sticking point for a lot of districts, but after years of putting printers in schools, we’ve learned that the biggest investment is time.
Time to pitch administrators and purchasers on funding 3D printers. Time to justify the expense by planning curricula around it. Time to train teachers on using 3D printers. This is where MakerBot shines. We have something at each step of the process, from free lesson plans to professional development and certification.
Can you give us some practical examples of introducing MakerBot from coalface experience in schools and/or Montclair State University?
One of the more difficult things about implementing 3D printers in schools is setting up a system/model for their use. MakerBot offers a powerful queuing and management software for our big 3D printing labs (known as Innovation Centers), but where does that leave the teachers operating an individual printer in a classroom or makerspace? In these cases, our support team helps teachers walk through how to set up a single MakerBot login for use by multiple students, and how to set up different checks for how and when students use printers.
Here are two best practices that grew out of our early work with teachers that I’d love to share:
1. In cases where printers are shared, 1 per library or 1 per classroom, require that students get designs approved before printing. This lets you put a limit on long prints, so that printers can be shared fairly, and gives teachers a step to reinforce 3D printing skills with students, i.e. “Is this print optimized for speed?” “Did you check to make sure it will print successfully?” It also helps control off-topic prints that don’t relate directly to a lesson or project.
2. Only let students 3D print things they’ve designed themselves. Thingiverse is an amazing library of downloadable and printable things, and you can print everything from silly toys to complex tools. But unless students have a great reason for downloading and printing something, they’re not understanding the true purpose of the printer.
Where do you see MakerBot going in future, on an educational level and commercially?
The next big step for MakerBot in education is the certification program we’re about to launch. Nearly all teachers are required to do some sort of professional development (PD) during the year to meet their school’s standards for continuing education. There are a bunch of different programs that can fulfil this, but we just created the first 3D printing certification that lives up to the standards of PD requirements and trains teachers on how to use printers in the classrooms. Teachers can earn their certification by completing the assessment-based courses. Educators will now have a comprehensive set of resources to help them get started on their journey with 3D printing in the classroom.
We offer over 400 3D printing lesson plans and the industry’s easiest, most reliable printers. MakerBot 3D printers are in well over 5,000 schools nationwide. We have 18 full scale 3D printing labs worldwide, including the first Innovation Center at a high school. MakerBot is the leader in 3D printing for education, and we’re excited to build on that legacy with more research, development, and support.
A question for readers
I only have one question for readers – How mindblown can you get? If this is the future, it’s starting to look a lot more credible. Imagine the range of skill sets, knowledge base, and real, productive, practical, and much better still, fun learning ahead. See the MakerBot Education page here ]for more info about all their other fantastic work and products.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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