Imagining the Impossible: How 3D Printing Can Help Kids Explore the Potential of Technology
In December 2016, Mattel released ThingMaker, the first 3D printer designed specifically for kids. ThingMaker made 3D printing not only affordable, but it also redesigned the printer to make it “kid friendly” (eliminating hot nozzles and plates, and making maintenance less complex and costly). Experts agree that ThingMaker has the potential to change the way kids view creation and learning in a number of ways.
Many of the designs that kids can print with 3D printers come from open-source software and are rather basic and/or mundane items. However, students are still thrilled to hold the finished product in their hands. Sociologists call this the “IKEA effect”: the notion that we value things we make ourselves more even if they are not the same high quality as those things made by experts.
One of the benefits of this is that kids can learn to appreciate the imperfections in their own creative products as they modify and personalize designs. 3D design experts observe that children are much more willing to overlook flaws in their end products and as a result are much more likely to take design risks in order to personalize their creations.
One of the downsides of regular use of 3D technology is that those working with often fall victim to “design fixation,” the tendency to create designs based on things they are already familiar with or have seen regularly. Young students who work with 3D printers don’t have the vast library of images and items that adults do, and this frees them from the preconceptions of design fixation. The hope is that by engaging kids in the process of 3D design at an early age, they’ll be more likely to unleash their imaginations and transcend the limits of adults.
Working with a 3D printer allows kids to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in real time at a low cost. Since 3D printers are able to produce one product at a time, kids can experiment with different designs and learn from their mistakes at a relatively low cost. The printers also push students to develop their coding skills as they see the possibilities emerge and they develop the language necessary to communicate their design ideas to other students.