Makerspaces may seem like a newfangled idea, but they’re actually the result of combining a proven learning principle with emerging technologies.

“Makerspaces” may be taking education by storm right now, but they’re actually just a new iteration of an idea that has been around for ages: constructivism. Sometimes described as “where DIY meets education,” constructivism refers to learning by doing, and involves changing one’s approach to teaching, learning, and student inquiry in a way that encourages building “spaces” — whether physical or virtual — that communicate an understanding of a topic.

While makerspaces are often associated with STEM fields, classes in any subject can benefit from a constructivist approach. For example, a history class could create a VR-simulated tour of ancient Rome, or an English class could create clay models of characters in a book rather than writing a traditional report.

Makerspaces run the gamut from primitive to cutting-edge, but as tools like AR, VR, and 3D printing continue to mature, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the most effective makerspaces incorporate high-tech tools. 3D printing in particular has immense potential to transform K-12 classrooms in the coming years.

Preparing for 3D Printing

An IDC report found that spending on 3D printing is projected to reach $35.4 billion across all industries by 2020. While most of that spending will be in fields like engineering and architecture, forward-thinking schools can also use 3D printers to help students develop the 3D design skills they’ll need to succeed in college and their careers.

However, for teachers who have never used a 3D printer, getting the hang of the device — let alone crafting lesson plans around it — can be a daunting task. 3D printers are far from intuitive, as oftentimes the optimal way to print is upside-down or backwards.

Further, 3D printers are serious machinery, and can be somewhat dangerous if operated incorrectly. While they do come with safety measures in place, their insides can heat up to extremely high temperatures. For this reason, most schools are making a concerted effort to avoid open 3D printers and purchase cabinet-based devices instead. Less of a danger and more of an annoyance, 3D printers can also be extremely messy, and a botched job can require a lot of clean-up.

The Cost of 3D Printing

That said, the greatest barrier to widespread 3D printing adoption is neither a potential mess nor a steep learning curve, but cost. Most 3D printers cost several hundred dollars, but the expense of running a 3D printer is usually far higher than the device’s list price. When building a 3D printing-based makerspace, ISTE recommends starting with blue painter’s tape, isopropyl alcohol spray, tweezers, a putty knife, spring-loaded wire cutters, a wiping cloth, and PLA filament (the raw material the printer uses to create objects).

PLA spools cost $20 to $30 each, and schools need to invest in a variety of colors in order to unlock 3D printing’s full potential. Fortunately, educators also have many free resources at their disposal, including online 3D design platforms like Tinkercad.

What’s clear, however, is that implementing a 3D printing program involves a not insignificant initial outlay. For many districts, using a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform is the easiest way to ensure they have access to the resources they need to finance a 3D printing endeavor. CheckPoint streamlines a district’s data gathering, organizing, and validating processes, helping it maximize the funding it receives from state and federal sources — funding that can go directly toward creating engaging, enriching makerspaces.