If you’re old enough, you’ll remember how your schoolteacher used to deal out those weird-smelling, purple-inked Ditto machine prints. Failing that, you’re sure to recall photocopies. Now that same duplication can be brought to plastic objects.
Any school that owns or has access to a 3-D printer can now make three-dimensional models, or “manipulatives),” of the 2-D illustrations in books. Not only that, but they can download and print all manner of neat educational objects, from catapults to distance-measuring wheels to mathematical models. The 3-D printer needs to be supplied, but the models come from MyStemKits, a new company that specializes in models for schools.
The premise is simple. The downloadable models are curriculum-vetted, and teachers pay a small amount for credits, which they use to pay for the models. Currently the Kickstarter price is $15 for 600 credits.
Also available are classroom kits with complementary materials. Kits contain meter rulers, stands, rubber bands, and so on, and some of them have motion and weather station sensors. You combine these with the 3-D-printed parts to make such things as scales (printed weights move along a balance arm made from one of the meter sticks), pulleys, and even a brain anatomy kit, where all the sections of the brain fit together in a model that can be dismantled.
“We’ve sourced content area experts and teachers to build lesson plans and created a standardized curriculum,” says Hannah Olson, cofounder of MyStemKits. “Now students and teachers can select the kits they need online and print out the 3-D models right in the classroom.”
Even though the company has designed the service for schools, there is a “maker” tier available on the Kickstarter page, signaling that anyone with a 3-D printer can use the service. I would have killed (using a 3-D-printed ninja sword, probably) for this when I was a kid.