Even just a decade ago, the word “STEAM” was associated more with saunas than with education. But today, STEAM education—which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics—is recognized as critically important in the education of today’s children.
The U.S. Department of Education projects that the number of jobs in STEAM-related fields will grow by 14 percent from 2010 to 2020. Compare this to the national average of 5 to 8 percent growth across all sectors, and it’s clear that children need to have a strong foundation in the subjects that make up STEAM.
As important as the subjects being taught, though, are the methods. STEAM is more than just rote textbook learning. Because the STEAM fields develop and change so rapidly, the focus is on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills in students. They are encouraged to ask questions and experiment, not memorize and repeat.
Robotics perfectly captures the blend of experimentation, problem solving, creativity, learning, and fun that makes up a STEAM education. And the results of participating in robotics are compelling. According to FIRST, a nonprofit dedicated to designing accessible STEAM programs for students, kids who get involved in robotics are 88 percent more interested in doing well in school than their non-robotics peers, 90 percent more likely to take a challenging math or science course, and 91 percent more likely to be interested in going to college. They also have improved problem solving skills, increased time management skills, increased conflict resolution skills, and strengthened communications skills. Scholarly articles back up these statistics. (B. Barker & J. Asange, 2014; A. Welch & D. Huffman, 2011)
3D printing provides advantages for robotics teams that are difficult to replicate with other products. In a competitive environment, 3D printing allows for the quick testing of new solutions. It allows teams to have tangible, physical outcomes for their ideas: They can see in real time with real, made-to-order products whether their ideas worked. If their ideas don’t work, they can tweak them, and see how the final product changes. This sort of hands-on learning is proven to keep kids engaged, and help them learn.
It also teaches kids that 3D printing, and other cutting-edge technology, does not need to be reserved for mechanical engineers, or other professionals with advanced degrees. Increasingly, the interfaces are intuitive and easy to use. Even without being on a robotics team, students can still have opportunities to use 3D printer technology to learn about robotics and STEAM skills. Increasingly, there are tutorials and guidelines online that kids can use to make their own robots using 3D printers. For instance, you can find a free online tutorial for how to make interactive robotogami—foldable robots printed from a 3D printer. Additionally, each year we sponsor the Extreme Redesign Challenge, an opportunity for students of all ages to redesign an existing product to improve how a task is accomplished, or design something entirely new that addresses an unmet need. This is a quest to find the most creative, mechanically sound and realistically achievable design using 3D printing. Last year, the first place winner in the engineering, secondary education category incorporated robotics to create a biomimetic robotic prosthetic hand. And while entries in the Extreme Redesign Challenge do not need to incorporate robotics, last year, for Grayson Galisky it proved to be a unique and winning strategy.
3D printing and robotics go hand in hand. It allows students to hit all the goals of STEAM learning: creative, quick thinking; team work; communication; experimentation; and a deepening, hands-on understanding of STEAM concepts. These are skills that will set kids up for success, whatever their career path. To learn more about 3D printing in STEAM education, click here.