Considering that we already print organs, food and buildings, what might the future hold? What future skills might the students of today need?

Bentleigh Secondary School in Melbourne’s south east has responded to this challenge by investing in robotics for Year 7s, a 3D printer for Year 8s and drones for Year 9s, thanks to recent funding for digital technologies.

With these technologies, the school aims to help prepare their students for the unpredictable but exciting years ahead.

Under the guidance of digital technologies teacher James Lee, Year 8 students at Bentleigh are using the 3D printer to create digital solutions to real world problems.

“The idea is that they learn about how a 3D printer works, they look at the progression from 2D to 3D printers ... and then explore how things are modelled [and] the issues that you face with a 3D printer.

For example, [it might mean] the filament isn’t coming out properly or the scaffolds aren’t set up right,” Lee explains.

“There are some constraints in place, such as the object can’t be bigger than 10cm by 10cm, because we have to print them all out.

They have to identify the problem, come up with various solutions, they’ll sketch some ideas out and they’ll choose the one that they think is the best, and they have to justify why they would want to design this,” he continues.

The students use the TInkerCAD program to model their design in a 3D environment, and then export the design to the 3D printer.

The project includes time for evaluation of the finished product, to look at possible improvements and to make decisions on how to modify the design.

While engaging and stimulating for the students, making the 3D models is not an end in itself. Identifying problems and designing solutions is key.

The students are encouraged to look around their world and identify a need or problem that can be solved with the development of 3D technology.

Products created this year include spill-proof soup trays, gadgets to hang headphones, wall-mounted key hooks and doorstops.

“The students are all pretty excited, although a lot of students do notice the shortcomings ... [and] they’re not used to coming up with new ideas.

So this is what’s really good about this project, we really are trying to push them to think and use the skills that we need them to develop, because that’s something that is an area that needs to be developed throughout the whole curriculum in schools,” Lee says.

It’s not only the Year 8s at Bentleigh who are benefitting.

The school has created a STEAM focus across all year levels. Lee says that the school is energised to be “pursuing the ideals of science and technologies, engineering, the arts and maths to solve real world problems, and (to be facilitating) the whole problem-solving process of analysing and designing, implementing and testing, and re-designing as needed...”

“These are all skills that we know are going to be very important in the future.”