Over the last five years, 3Dkanjers has brought 3D printing into more than 500 primary schools in the Netherlands.
The organization has reached more than 29,000 children and more than 1,100 teachers, rising to become the Netherlands’ #1 provider of 3D printing in primary education. Founded by Remco Liefting and Jos Kok, 3Dkanjers is helping schools build students’ skills for the 21st century.
“Nowhere in the world can you find an initiative of rivaling size that aims to incorporate 3D printing in the classroom through exploring and also building your own 3D printer. With 3Dkanjers, pioneering schools can invest in the development of 21st century skills by letting students build a 3D printer and exploring the possibilities 3D printing technology brings, challenging existing perceptions and testing their own ideas. Much like the students, teachers will also learn from this experience,” Liefting tells me of the company.
3Dkanjers has built an online community, through which, with about 770 teachers, they create lesson plans. They also provide technical support and look into funding options to help schools adopt the program. With about 550 schools having adopted a 3Dkanjers project, and more than 20 regional projects – -”we take a regional approach and involve multiple schools within the same region, at the same time,” Liefting says — reach has expanded. The 3Dkanjers team have also given more than 450 presentations/exhibitions, appeared in 150+ regional newspaper publications, and published two 3Dkanjers Magazines.
For more background on the company and insights into 3D printing in Dutch education, I appreciated the opportunity to interview Liefting.
How did 3Dkanjers get its start? Why did it seem necessary?
“Technology has and will even more strongly change the way we work and live together. This does not mean that everyone has to become a technician, but a considerable degree of ‘technology-wisdom’ is certainly a must for the future to remain a full member of society. New functions will also be created as a result of the rapid technological developments. That turnaround will be so fundamental that we do not really know for which jobs we will educate students. In any case, the developments will require different or new competences, the so-called 21st century skills.
We also note that fewer and fewer students in the Netherlands opt for a technical education. This will have serious consequences for the near future as far as the Netherlands’ competitive position in the international economy is concerned. In order to participate in the global economy, the manufacturing industry will have to become more attractive again. The innovative strength of the business community will have to be increased and there must be a change to sustainable growth and innovation. New technologies in particular will have to drive this innovation and change.
Without good technicians it is difficult to give hands and feet to this change. It is now time to invest heavily in education that makes children curious and challenging at the interface between technology and technology. Technology has to become attractive again, because after all it is one of the opportunity sectors. Children need to get involved in making the right choice of profession and they need to find the right school for this. Our conviction is that this stimulation should not start in secondary or vocational education, but already in primary education. At that time, the children are very receptive to new impulses that have also been scientifically proven to be used again for educational or professional choices later in life. In primary education, doing nothing about technology means making disproportionate efforts in later stages to enable pupils to choose technology.
There is increasing understanding and support for the use of technology as a learning tool for children to create opportunities for integrating 21st century skills, tools and teaching strategies into the classroom practice. 3D printing now has the attention and interest. It opens doors for new innovative technologies and ideas and is a stepping stone to the more intensive use of (manufacturing) technology in the classroom to support education.
3Dkanjers started as a pilot including 12 schools in the Netherlands, and quickly expanded to the current network of around 550 schools in both primary (90%) and secondary education (10%). With 3Dkanjers, pioneering schools can invest in the development of 21st century skills by letting students build and/or use a 3D printer and exploring the possibilities 3D printing technology brings, challenging existing perceptions and testing their own ideas. Much like the students, teachers will also learn from this experience.”
What do students learn to do with the 3Dkanjers program?
“By having the students build their own 3D printer or use a ready-made machine and letting them figure out what can be done with it and how it can provide solutions for existing problems or lead to advancements in different sectors, the students learn to adopt 3D printing as ‘just another’ tool in modern life. Other than instructing them ‘which button to push’, teaching the students how different concepts work, and lets them think of the idea behind different technologies and applications. By introducing them to 3D printing at an early stage, they can prepare for their future jobs which may require thinking very differently about some traditional concepts. The main goal of 3Dkanjers is to teach students and teachers to think differently, take on an explorative problem-solving approach.”
Why teach students to build their own 3D printers?
“There is a big difference in experience between building something yourself or unpacking a box. In addition to a kind of self-satisfaction, self-building gives the feeling that you are ‘the owner’ of what you have built yourself. You want to cherish it, keep it nice and maybe even improve it. You feel more ‘owner’ because you have gone through the learning process and know the 3D printer through and through. We have experienced that schools that have built the 3D printer themselves have more motivation to do something with it and that the pupils who have contributed to this have the need to share their knowledge with others. You see that much less with schools that have bought a ready-made 3D printer and where the teacher has attended a course. There the 3D printer is the same as a glue gun or a soldering iron. Building a 3D printer it is not a ‘must’ of course, but it certainly contributes to the introduction and use of the 3D printer in the classroom.”
How do you train the teachers you work with who are themselves new to 3D printing technologies?
“3Dkanjers has developed a unique approach: the 3Dkanjers Experience and the 3Dkanjers Discovery. These learning paths has been developed in collaboration with teachers involved in the 3Dkanjers projects and the students of a pedagogical academy and is continuously developing. In addition to the construction process of the 3D printer (which is unique in and outside the Netherlands), these approaches also includes the search and creation of 3D objects, the 3D printing of 3D objects and the maintenance of the 3D printer. In addition, we believe that working with the 3D printer in the classroom should be embedded in ongoing learning lines within education. That is why we are constantly working on developing new modules and inspiration cards in the 3Dkanjers Community.
The starting point of 3Dkanjers is learning together. Not only the pupils, but also the teachers need to be supported. Across the country, experiences are gained with the 3D printer in the classroom. Innovative insights and applications are translated by teachers into interesting exercises and assignments. We share these in our (digital) community, our workshops and in our magazines. The digital community of 3Dkanjers is open to all those involved in a 3Dkanjers project. In addition to a digital community, 3Dkanjers regularly organizes regional and national meetings.”
Do you plan to expand beyond the Benelux region?
“Our primary focus is the Netherlands and we do support some schools in Belgium. On the long term we are thinking about to expand our successful concept to other countries.”
Have any student projects been particularly surprising or impressive? What makes a student project stand out?
“We are constantly surprised what students of all ages are doing with the 3D printer. For example, students from group 8 of primary school De Singelier in Diever have printed a new paw for a goose with the help of a 3D printer. The Goose lost his left front paw after he had been stuck in a little stairs near the park. The animal wanted to get out of the water but slipped and got stuck. The students designed a leg for the goose and with the help of a 3D printer the prosthesis was printed. We also see good initiatives on regional level where several schools are working together to solve a problem or take up a challenge like 3D printing five hundred medals for a Kidsrun. Several primary schools have even opened their own webshop where 3D printed items can be ordered. How cool is that.”
What else should we know about 3Dkanjers?
“3Dkanjers is supported in the Netherlands by Ultimaker, Dremel, the Rolf group, Heutink, Innofil3D and Distrinova to give the technical education in the Netherlands a strong boost. Through this powerful collaboration, we are even better able to help schools with the active and sustainable use of the 3D printer in the classroom.”