Design based thinking and 3D printers

Teaching by design is a relatively new approach to pedagogy which invites open-ended questioning and problem solving (Fouché and Crowley, 2017). Wrigley (2017) suggests that when design is used in conjunction with problem solving  and decision making it has an increasingly beneficial role in society.

There are many benefits to utilising design based thinking in today’s classrooms. Jun, Han and Kim (2017) found that design based thinking increased students’ self-efficacy and that when paired with programming education, with the use of ICT, students become more aware and understanding of the notion of computers and devices as creative tools.


Design based thinking within the classroom allows students to use problem solving skills and collaboration to work through the five phases of the design process, (1) discovery, (2) interpretation, (3) Ideation, (4) Experimentation, and (5) Evolution. Through these steps students enhance their skills required by 21st century thinking and process (Jun, Han and Kim, 2017). Moreover, through this process students are engaging in metacognitive thinking, and students are able to engage in applying content knowledge and skills to relevant and interesting issues (Fouché and Crowley, 2017).


Within design base thinking, there is the need for students to work with new materials to solve problems that have more than one solution (Fouché and Crowley, 2017). An effective technology use that students could engage with is a 3D printer. Wilson (2013) suggests that the decrease of cost for 3D printers can allow students to create tangible version of their ideas and drawings. Thereby, 3D printers assist in bridging the gap between virtual and real world (Wilson, 2013). Wilson (2013) outlines various benefits of 3D printers in schools, suggesting it has cross curricula potential, and that the current technology has been effective in creating excitement around computing.

So, how does design based thinking and 3D printers foster creativity in classrooms?

Ultimately, when teachers combine design based thinking with 3D printers students are given opportunities to engage in cross curriculum thinking (Shelly, Anzalone, Wijnen and Pearce, 2015), with the freedom of hypothesising their own solutions. Moreover, 3D printers allow students to make use of technology that they may not know, which allows for self directed learning (Shelly, Anzalone, Wijnen and Pearce, 2015). Through the use of open-ended tasks utilised in design based thinking, students are able to think uniquely about relevant issues, and instead of reading about other’s solutions, they are able to work collaboratively to create their own approach (Jun, Han and Kim, 2017).


Here is a short video that details how design based thinking is being used in multiple areas. 


Fouché, Jaunine, & Crowley, Joel. (2017). Kidding around with Design Thinking. Educational Leadership, 75(2), 65-69.

Jun, S., Han, S., & Kim, S. (2017). Effect of design-based learning on improving computational thinking. Behaviour & Information Technology, 36(1), 43-53.

Schelly, Anzalone, Wijnen, & Pearce. (2015). Open-source 3-D printing technologies for education: Bringing additive manufacturing to the classroom. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 28, 226-237.

Sean VanGernderen (2014). What is Design Thinking? Retrieved from

Wilson, Lyndal. (2013). A new dimension : The use of 3D printing in schools. Independence, 38(2), 26,28-32.

Wrigley, Derek F. (2017). Design-based thinking in our schools. Artichoke, (59), 14.



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