Why 3D Printing & Fabrication are Important to Education

(cc) Photo by Anja C. Wagner
3D printer selbstgebaut vom ODC (self-made at the open design center, probably in Berlin)

I mentioned in my ISTE Reflection article that I thought 2012 would be the year that 3D printing and fab labs emerged as a major interest to the education world. But it’s more than just a cool technology that we’d like to see in schools.  Personal fabrication may be hugely important to us.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having coffee with my friend, neighbor and fellow blogger, Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams).  A self-made authority on interstellar space exploration and associate with the Tau Zero Foundation, Gilster has inspired me for years, as expressed in the acknowledgments of all my books.

On that day, he told me about work toward sending small spacecraft to specific positions in space in relation to the sun.  The craft would look back at our star and utilize the bending of light caused by the sun’s gravitational force to magnify what’s on the other side.  The concept is called Gravitational Lensing, and was initially mentioned by physicist Orest Chwolson in 1924 and first quantified by Albert Einstein in 1936. In effect, we would be turning the sun into a gigantic lens, through which we would be able to see, according to Gilster, planets orbiting distant stars, continents on those worlds, and even cities, if they exist.

This is where my legs started to get wobbly.

Getting to specifics, Paul explained that to get a spacecraft to that position, about 750 astronomical units (AU) from the sun (Pluto orbits at an average of 40au), the craft would have to be very small and utilize nano scale mechanisms and even some degree of artificial intelligence.

At that point, a recurring question came to mind, which I asked,

“Assume that we’re approaching the limits of what we would practically want to do with our cell phones and personal computers, and that they’re about as small as we wish them to be, what’s going to drive further research and development in miniaturization – making things smaller?  Surely not NASA.”

I didn’t actually speak the last sentence.  But Gilster said that aside from the military, it would be personal fabrication, that we would all have our own in-house fabricators, where we would design and “print” our own cellphones, etc.  

As my son explained it to me, the lid that holds the batteries in our TV remote is broken and has been discarded.  As a result, we have to handle the remote with care to prevent the batteries from falling out.  Tape has not been a satisfactory solution.  With a 3D printer, we would simply go to the Samsung web site, look up the part and print it.  Ten minutes later (or an hour later, it doesn’t matter) the part would be sitting in our printer, where we could clip it into our remote.  One of the 3D printers that I saw at ISTE cost only $1,600.  The original Macintosh computers were nearly twice that expensive with only 128K of memory and no hard drive.  3D printers may become very important to us.

The true potential is when we can design our own remotes, with our our own sense of flair, using design software, and then print in our own homes.  Cottage industries might emerge, contests, DIY markets – and all fueled by creativity and inventiveness.

Check out the proliferation of Maker Faires and Cory Doctorow’s 2009 novel, Makers.

Now this idea of in-house fabrication and its cultural impact may seem a bit far-fetched to you.  However, if you’re old enough, you may remember a time when carrying your personal phone in your pocket might have seemed just as unlikely – a phone with which you could get weather and news reports on demand, have access to an interconnected global library, pinpoint your exact location on a map and participate in any of a million global conversations.

My question is this.  What should our children be learning today and how should they be learning it, to be ready to leverage this kind of creative opportunity?

What do you think?

ISTE Reflections

I’ve set about writing several takeaway blog posts in the last few of days and never getting to finish them.  So I guess I’ll just write this one big one.

First, I mentioned to a number of people at ISTE about my plans to gradually scale back my traveling and start searching for my next passion – over the next five to fifteen years. However, after this conference, reflecting on the conversations, presentations and panels, keynotes, and especially factoring in the changes in how conference attendees use their own ICTs for learning there — well, what could possibly compete with this.

There is so much left to do — so many trajectories that we need to change. As Zhao asked, “Why are we (USA) reaching so low?

The SocialEdCon (formerly known as the EduBloggerCon) began with casual conversations among people we knew and people we didn’t know. I had to sympathize with Steve Hargadon’s having to reign us in to a slightly more structured set of conversations.

My first was prompted by “What do you think when you hear the term ‘educator entrepreneur’?” The prompt was mine, and the question was poorly asked. I learned that the word, entrepreneur, has connotations that I had subconsciously suppressed, namely that people think that entrepreneurship is typically practiced for the sake of profit. I could make a case for different kinds of profit – and one of the participants shared her business card, which had  printed on it, “Edupreneur.” One of my takeaways was a list of qualities of the educator entrepreneur (if I might continue to use that term). This is by no means conprehensive, and its value is in the fact that it came out of a conversation. Educator-entrepreneurs are,

  • Self-directed
  • Take control of their time
  • Model their entrepreneurship for their students
  • Do not make excuses
  • Take responsibility

It was also agreed that there should be three goals of the educator-entrepreneur:

  • To make their classroom a place where the community wants to be
  • That children are learning things that their community didn’t know – and wants to know
  • That they help their students to brand their classrooms

I also attended a conversation about how to make education “trend” – and realized, once we got into it, that we were covering some of the same territory as a similar conversation last year. My new take-away was how Facebook can, and has, become an effective way of extending the education conversation into the greater community, as educators are frequently friended by people who are not educators. I was also reminded of my own conclusion from last year, that the “media” is doing little to help us — and that perhaps we should be competing with the media for ears and eyeballs through the new avenues and compelling communication tools we have increasing access to.

Yong Zhao was nothing short of phenomenal. He didn’t really teach me anything new, but I come to these conferences for new language and new stories, and he more than satisfied me. I was especially impress by his description of the Easter Island statues. In his telling, the statures were built to impress, but their construction used up the island’s resources, resulting in their society’s decline — No Stone left behind.

Yong is very good at telling stories, whose real meanings do not emerge until the final punchline. Ewan Macintosh said that its a story with two punchlines. Zhao’s message was simple. “Why is china not celebrating?” And, “Why have we lowered our standards to compete with Shanghai?”

I could go on with more sessions that I attended and conversations I had, but one of the aspects of this annual conference that always intrigues me is the “buzz.” What was the buzz of the ISTE 2012? I asked a few people I respect for their thoughts, and the most common response was Flipped-Classroom. Although there were several sessions about the topic (almost as if any proposal, mentioning the concept, go accepted), the flipped-classroom has been around for a few years.

I’m not sure it could be called “the Buzz,” but ISTE12 might be thought of as the year that personal fabrication or 3D Printing fisrt made a commanding appearance. There were a number of exhibitors who featured related software and hardware. Wednesday also saw a fabrication playground that drew a larger and more enthusiastic gathering than any of the others, in my observation.

I wonder if Personal Fab may be a next big thing — and that’s not just in our classrooms.


Where is the Future of Education?: A Pre-ISTE Blog Entry

I was scanning through an infographic the other day from Occupy Educated, called “The Illusion of Choice.” It tells the story of how six media giants control 90% of what we see, read and hear.

Because you’re curious, they are GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.

Is this where the future of education is being planned –  corporate boardrooms?

I could go on and on, as many have already, about the threat this poses to a nation, formerly known as “Democratic.”

But – might there come a time, when we see at the bottom of this infographic how 90% of our schools are controlled by, say, three corporations, three boards of directors instead of local boards of education.

Thousands of educators, from around the world will be gathering in San Diego next week to share, teach and learn, tell stories, celebrate, eat and drink and leave, knowing more about supporting their students in their learning journeys. We’ll be talking about pedagogy, emerging and cool technologies, school and classroom management, creativity and games, and our students – and how to motivate them to want to make learning a lifestyle. We will also share stories about the multitude of barriers we face in promoting a progressive retooling of our classrooms.

But I have come to worry about a greater threat to the democratic foundations of education, a threat so big, so strange, and so insidious, that it is going largely Un-noticed.  It is so large and comes from such high places that I hesitate to do more than whisper it.  I am not a cynical person.  But people whom I admire and respect have gone this far and for some time now – and I will too.  I fear that there is, and has been, an organized and orchestrated effort by people in high places (and low places) to privatize education in America – to take over our classrooms.

Let’s look at this from a corporate entrepreneurial point of view.  According to a recent U.S. Census report, funding going to U.S. “public” schools in 2008-2009 totaled 591 billion dollars, with $55.9 billion coming from the federal government, $276.2 billion from states and $258.9 billion from local sources.  In many powerful circles, that translates to almost 600 billion dollars that are certainly being poorly spent by the “government” – and with zero bankable profits.

We’re being convinced that:

  1. The U.S. is falling behind other nations in education – that  our schools are failing.
  2. The success of schools and education can be precisely measured and quantified by a corporate testing industry and the constant testing of our children.
  3. Teachers, protected by labor unions, do not know what they’re doing.
  4. Business can do it better.

Each of these are so easily debunked.  But exposing their fallacies does not tell a story, and stories are what we need.  Are you a story?  Are you successful in your work and happy in your family and friends.  If so, then YOU are the measure of the success of your education – not the tests you took 5, 10, 15 or 40 years ago.

For me, I’m going to ISTE to find new language and new stories for proving that the purpose of education is not to prepare our children to be weighed and measured at the end of each year, but to prepare them for their future – and in ways that are as exciting as their future has the potential to be.

Oh yeah!   I’ll also be looking for cool new tech.

Top 10 Tips for Attending ISTE

Dressing for the ISTE12 Exhibit Hall
(cc) photo by Heath_bar

Everyone is posting their dress and packing tips for the coming International Society for Technology Education conference – ISTE12. So I, as a professional conference go’er, thought I would contribute ten more tips for participating in this MMORGPD


  1. San Diego is cold this time of year, so wear heavy clothing.  Dress in layers, because conference centers are notoriously hot.  You’ll be doing lots of walking so wear boots, big ones, with lots of laces – Unless you’ve brought heals.
  2. You’ll want to take lots of notes, so carry several spiral-bound note books.  Also carry pencils, #2s.  If you can find them, use white or aluminum grey pencils.  They’ll impress the people sitting around you.  
  3. In the presentation rooms, be careful not to sit near anyone with a computer or tablet computer.  They have almost certainly left their email notification alarm on, and when it goes off, everyone will turn around and look — at you!  If someone with a computer sits near you, get up and find a more secluded spot.
  4. If possible, sit on the front row and straighten your legs out as far as possible.  This is where the boots come in, because presenters love to navigate obstacle courses while presenting.
  5. The exhibit hall is the reason you came.  There’s treasure here.  It’s also a great place for play.  Pretend you’re invisible.  Wearing a dark cap will help.  If you can achieve this, then you’ll have the run of the hall.  Simply walk into any booth and pick-up all the pens, pencils, letter openers, and soft fuzzy balls you can find, and slip them quietly into your bag–preferably a large brown paper bag.  Chocolate is an especially treasured item and worth the return for more.  If someone in a booth confronts you, then carefully put the pencil back on the table, look down at the floor and slowly back away.
  6. You’ll see areas in the conference center with comfortable chairs, where people will be milling, talking, and showing each other their computers.  Shun these places.  The people will try to brainwash you.
  7. If someone approaches you, wanting to talk, then turn invisible.  If this doesn’t work, then look very stupid.  You’ll need to practice this in front of a mirror.  If they persist, then speak gibberish and walk away.
  8. If you hear anyone speak with an English accent, don’t believe anything they say – no matter how intelligent they sound or cute their accent is.  This goes double for Australians and New Zealanders.
  9. When the day is over, or by 4:00, which ever comes first, flee back to your hotel room.  This is the real challenge of conference-going, finding things to do in your hotel room.  I like to remove the lids of shampoo bottles and guess their scent.  Also, the extra blankets in the closet are expressly provided for the construction of elaborate blanket forts.   ..and I hope that you are a fan of “Law and Order.”  It will be playing during your entire visit – on at least three channels.
  10. What David really wants you to do is be comfortable, hungry to learn, ready to laugh and willing to cry, tweet your heart out and hashtag with #iste12, take every opportunity to meet someone new, and wear something strange.  I like those satin slippers with toes that curl up and a tiny bell on the end.
If I see you at ISTE12, please forgive me if I’ve forgotten your name.  I’m way past the age for excuses.


* Massively Multi-player Opportunity for Ripping Great Professional Development

Education Blogger Survey

I learned, via Hack Education, about a survey from the Institute of Educational Technology (The Open University). Announced by Alice Bell in her blog, the study is based on work they did last year exploring brain bloggers (early data).

Go here to get and complete the survey, and do it now – because today’s the deadline.

Here are my answers…

Blog URL: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents or http://blog.idave.us

What do you blog about?

Teaching and learning, and how their practice and purpose have evolved as a result of contemporary and emerging information and communication technologies and more specifically the effects of these technologies on the nature of information and literacy.

Are you paid to blog?


What do you do professionally (other than blog)?

I usually describe myself as an author, programmer, public speaker, entrepreneur and 35 year educator. My income comes mostly from book sales, public speaking and ad revenue from one of my web sites.  I am currently in the “slowly retiring” phase of my career.

How long have you been blogging at this site?

Since November of 2004

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?)

I have written four books, three of them self-published (Lulu) and one via a traditional publisher. I’ve also written chapters for other books, most recently the foreword for What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media, (2011) by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann. I have also written numerous magazine articles, but not in a long time. If asked to write one today, I would probably decline. It makes little sense, today, to carefully write a timely piece, only to have it published 9 months later.

Can you remember why you started blogging?

Initially (2004), I started blogging because it seemed the thing for a progressive and tech-savvy educator to be doing, sharing my knowledge with my readership. However, I very quickly realized that blogging was really a conversation, between the bloggers I read, what I wrote, the commenters who read and wrote on my blog site, and the bloggers who reflected on my ideas. Blogging is a learning experience for me. I blog to learn.

I learn because blogging requires me to organize and refine my own ideas. I also learn from the commenters and response blog posts.

What keeps you blogging?

To continue to learn.

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How?

I suspect that I have a fairly large audience, but only from the personal contacts I have with educators at conferences and also from the almost daily requests I receive from PR firms asking me to blog about their clients. I do have 15.7K followers on Twitter.

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog?

I deeply appreciate comments and have never deleted a comment (to my knowledge) unless it was obviously spam. I learn from commenters, and that is often especially true from comments that disagree with what I have written. The number of comments has declined, since much of that conversation has moved to Twitter. This disappoints me, since 140 characters is often not enough space to deeply explore any issue about education.

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology)

Yes, though this was probably more true before so many edubloggers started moving to Twitter as their primary means of engaging the community. But I suspect that I would be part of the edtech blogger community, though I rarely write specifically about technology.

If so, what does that community give you?

What I learn from this community, which spans the blogosphere, twitterverse and F2F connections at conferences.  I learn about new technologies and applications. But more importantly, I learn new stories and new language for talking about retooling classrooms.

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?

This is easy. The advantage is the space to more deeply examine issues of contemporary teaching and learning practices. The disadvantage is the space required to deeply examine issues. Busy educators have little time to read. It’s why Twitter and status updates have become so prominant in the education and edtech conversation. The key is learning to link the two together.

But in a broader sense, blogging empowers us to share, engage and build new knowledge.

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss)

Yes, though people who do not already know that I am a blogger, probably do not know what a blogger is.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?

There may not be a direct correlation, but invitations for public speaking engagements dramatically increased when I started blogging – which was good since my children were starting college at that time.

Should the Tools Drive the Learning?

(cc) photo by MrPessimist

I spent Wednesday morning at the “Every Teacher Every Learner” conference in College Park Georgia. The event was organized by Woodward Academy and mostly for private school teachers from the area. I talked about contemporary literacy (learning-literacy) and about new pedagogies.

In reviewing and commenting on the backchannel transcript this morning, I ran across a comment/question that deserves a little more exploration here. The question was:

“Should the tools and environment drive the learning or vice versa?”

It’s a common question in the greater edtech conversation that begs the answer, “No! the learning drives the tools.” My answer, which I inserted into the backchannel, was “Both!”

One of the mistakes that I believe we make is believing that the principle purpose of these information and communication technologies is to enhance education – as we’ve known it. This is a reasonable assumption and the way that we have all promoted technology for education since the early ’80s.

However, personal computers and the Internet are the pencil and paper of our time.  Like pencil and paper, the productive use of these technologies will not end at graduation.  We continue to use them as we continue with our lives and work.  They are our prevailing tools of accomplishment.

But perhaps even more important to this discussion is the fact that we are preparing our students for life-long learning.  Many, if not most of the students I graduated high school with (more than 40 years ago) went to work in the textile mills of my hometown, fully expecting to spend the next 35 years doing pretty much the same job – a job that required almost no continued learning.  Of course, those jobs have moved thousands of miles south and west – and my former classmates who continue to be employed accomplished it by learning new skills, and learning to continue learning new skills.  

It is a defining quality of a time of rapid change, that you live a lifestyle of learning.

The readers of this blog live that lifestyle, and we know that information and communication technologies have changed the way that we learn.  We learn from large and small networks that we create and cultivate with machines that we carry under our arms and in our pockets.

If it is a learning lifestyle that we should be preparing our students for, and if these tools are a principle mechanism for that lifestyle, then to that degree the tools should drive the how and even what our children are learning in school.

Learner as Hacker

Bud The Teacher posted a great blog article last week, Centering on Essential Lenses. His references to lenses reminded me of a bulletin board I use to have in my classroom that said something to the effect that, “This classroom is your microscope on the world.” Not being much of a bulletin board guy, it usually stayed up all year and for some years my classroom was a telescope.

I especially liked Hunt’s references to DIY and hacking, and I agree about many people’ misconceptions of the word, hack. I use the word a lot and often to the widening eyes of the person or people I’m talking to.  I usually use it to describe a cleaver, sometimes elegant and often disruptive fix to a problem or unattained goal – and it always refers to a particular person – the hacker.  

I guess it’s our nature to villainize the people who disrupt business as usual, though we also often adore them (see right).  But do we talk about hacks and hacking in our classrooms.  Do we teach children where and when to use a comma as if the concept was written on stone and delivered from “on high,” or do we explain it as a clever hack that solved some particular problem of communicating in print?

I’m a big-time hacker.  Most of my toys, growing up, were the result of fashioning various shapes of scrap wood I found my my Dad’s workshop, using straightened nails, into the toy gun, or truck, or boat that I wanted.  Programming code is my primary language of hacking today, though I still do it with my hands, recently hacking the plans of an adirondack chair I downloaded (have I said lately how much I love the Internet), because I couldn’t find the cedar planks in the widths called for by the “Materials List.”

I talk and write a lot about learning – that “Being educated today has more to do with your ability to learn than it does with what you’ve been taught.”  ..and learning is often the practice of hacking.  It’s about tricking Google into reveal exactly the information you need and examining the information, pulling together its aspects to determine its validity and value and reshaping it to fit with other similarly fashioned bits of information.  Then fitting that new knowledge into an old condition and even hacking that condition so that it fits your solution.  

Learning today should rarely be about being told something, though a well-told story is a wonderful thing.  Learning today should be about hacking.

I taught my students about inventions and inventors, but I should have told the stories of how he or she did that, about how he hacked those filaments and electricity into something that would ultimately result in this…

Those stories need to be told, admired and emulated and they need to be an integral part of our classroom conversations.

“How did you learn that?”

“How do you know that’s true?”

“How would you find out why?”

“How do you think she came up with that conclusion?”

“What information do you think we would need to find that out?”

Practice it this summer.  Hack some new knowledge.

“Bon Voyage!”