3D printing curricula from learnbylayers are being taught around the world: an interview with founder Philip Cotton.
Created by teachers for teachers, UK-based learnbylayers has at its heart an important message for education in that 3D printing and associated digital technologies are critical skills for the near future. Students need to learn these skills to keep up with their peers — and so far through learnbylayers, about 47439 students have been 3D printing in 61 schools in 16 countries around the world.
Learnbylayers was founded in 2017 “as a project to help teachers access high quality educational resources.” Award-winning teacher Philip Cotton and his dedicated team have developed a tried-and-tested classroom resource for 3D printing. A partnership with Kodak also opens up access to the recently introduced Portrait 3D printer.
In part one of our interview, we discuss learnbylayers; in part two, we look to broader implications of 3D printing in the classroom.
Can you provide a bit of your background and the genesis of learnbylayers?
“I’ve been a classroom teacher for ten years and started introducing teenagers to 3D printing in 2011. I wanted to bring something new and exciting into lessons and found out about 3D printing from a google search of new and emerging technologies. In those early days of my teaching career, there were very few teachers who were using the technology in the classroom. So, I started to get active on social media trying to find out what was going in with 3D printing in education. Honestly, there wasn’t much, there was no support for teachers in the classroom and no curriculum content out there for teachers. As I was teaching students about it and sharing it on social media, people became interested in what I was doing.
Since then I won the 3D printshow educational excellence award in 2013 and 2014 and then went on to become a lead teacher of STEM with the UK National STEM centre training teachers on how to start 3D printing in the classroom.
The idea of learnbylayers was created to meet the demands of schools and teachers who are looking for high quality content to deliver in the classroom. Within the education sector of 3D printing there has been many attempts to provide curriculum content, mainly by 3D printing companies. However, on most cases the curriculum content wasn’t based upon classroom experience of actual teachers. 3D printing companies main overarching aim was to sell printers to schools, with the curriculum content being an afterthought in their business model. Their focus was the hardware not the teaching and learning. This often led to low quality, often disjointed attempts by printer companies at creating lessons for teachers that just didn’t cut it.
With so much disparity being shown in the industry, I decided to look at creating a fully created curriculum based upon classroom experience of teaching 3D printing and from training other schools. Feedback from teachers was clear, they wanted a ready to use curriculum that met the assessment objectives of the subjects they deliver. So, I embarked upon the mammoth task of creating the curriculum and beta testing it with a range of schools last year.”
How many schools in how many countries around the world have brought learnbylayers into the classroom?
“Learnbylayers is taught in 16 countries at present with the USA, UK and Australia being the largest adopters. Within the USA there are currently schools across 16 states teaching the curriculum with a school district in Alaska adopting it for all their schools. This is rising every month as more teachers become aware of the curriculum and how it can help them. One of the main benefits for teachers is the fact that the curriculum is aligned to national educational standards such as NGSS, Commoncore Math (USA), GCSE and KS3 (UK) and Design and Technologies content (Australia). This means the teacher can clearly see what lessons meet the relevant standards they must meet.”
How do you approach differences in curricula needs in different educational systems?
“Differences in curricula needs are approached by allowing the content to be edited by the teacher if they see a need. With the curriculum being curated in English and reflective of national standards, the content of the lessons flows from the core of what the USA, UK and Australian education systems require for teaching 3D printing. A huge amount of time was spent researching different educational standards making sure that the content could be delivered by teachers from different countries
Also, with the software being based around TinkerCAD, Fusion360 and CURA, this solves the problem of the software being used in different countries as the Autodesk suite of products has a global audience. Another example to ensure we met the different needs of education systems includes having the measurements in metric and imperial to accommodate for countries that use inches/mm. Depending on what your country uses; the curriculum caters for both.
The main aim of learnbylayers is to give control to the teacher and by allowing the content to be edited after they have downloaded the files, means they can have total control over how they teach it (let’s call it the democratisation of teaching 3D printing).”
How do you develop curriculum content? What is included?
“The curriculum content is developed from my experience of teaching children 3D printing (I have 10 years in the classroom) and feedback from working with teachers I have trained. Teachers are very clear and honest about what they need in the classroom, so the content is created based on what’s in demand.
Once lessons are developed it is peer reviewed by a group of teachers and then any changes are implemented. This process takes a lot of time, but to ensure that lessons are high quality, it is essential.
With the lessons teachers get;
an individual plan for each lesson explaining how the lesson works,
a teaching powerpoint,
student worksheets (with answer sheets),
example STL files to pre-print as part of the lesson tasks,
video tutorials for the CAD modelling lesson,
homework tasks and with answer sheets (every lesson gets a homework),
Links to youtube videos to support the lessons
end of module assessments with answer sheets
All in all, there are over 190 resources as part of the curriculum. They can teach them as they are ‘out of the box’ or edit the content to fit in any specific design projects that they might be working on.”