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3D Printing in Algebra Class?

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Keywords: 3D Printer, Math, Algebra, Hands-on, science,
Subject(s): Biology, Algebra, Technology, Geometry, Science, Math
Grades P-K through 8
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: New Horizon Christian School, Centralia, IL
Planned By: Andrew Plett
Original Author: Andrew Plett, Centralia
3D printing works by giving the machine instructions. Many of these instructions are algebraic in nature. By combining algebra concepts with designing or altering a 3D object, students will have a chance to see, and hold, the results of their computation. Students will push their mathematics skills to higher levels when they realize to print simple objects requires simple math, while complex objects require more complex math.

An introductory lesson to Functions through 3D printing:
A function is made up of inputs and outputs. This is just like a 3D printer where the inputs are plastic resin and instructions, and the outputs are the objects that it prints. Since there are two different categories of inputs (plastic and instructions), we can first talk about what happens to the outputs when the inputs are changed. If we feed red plastic into the machine, our output will be a red object. However, if we feed blue plastic into the machine, we will get a blue object.
Now, the instructions change the shape of the output. With this in mind, we can take a look at the types of equations that would determine the shape and the size of the output. Mathematical concepts that would be discussed would include scale, similar, and congruent shapes.
The students can be asked to supply the inputs or at least have some input on the inputs and at the end of the lesson, an actual physical object would be produced.

A 3D printer would be an amazing teaching tool that would not only benefit the math department. But, other departments would also benefit. Our science teacher would love to have a 3D printout of a human skull!
Having a 3D printer at our school would add a whole new level to learning mathematics, science, and technology!
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Our math class could design and calculate formulas for the instructions to print models for the science department. Or print manipulatives for other classes and grade levels.
Many lessons could use the 3D printer to explore different algebraic concepts. Scale, similar and congruent shapes, equations for circles, perimeter, area, volume. Calculate how much plastic resin will be needed for a given object and how much that object would cost if printed at various sizes. There are too many uses to list.
Links: Link to "3D Printing for Education" Video
Materials: Printers