Students use 3D printing to tackle global issues

(Last Updated On: June 21, 2017)

A Christchurch school’s students are using 3D modelling and printing to build board games – and discover new ways of thinking to solve world problems, explains The Mind Lab’s Catherine Johnson.


Year 9 and 10 students at Te Kura Kaupapa Ma-ori O Te wha-nua Tahi are visiting The Mind Lab once a week over the course of the school year. During Term 1, they completed a project that saw them develop a board game using 3D printed objects. They used the games to explore some of the world’s biggest issues, including hunger, poverty, cultural ‘knowing’ and inequality, and looked at potential solutions to bring about positive change.

“We were asked to develop a programme for the school that reflected a broad theme of wellness,” said Catherine. “The challenge combined creating a traditional board game with new digital technology to help the students start thinking in a more future-focused way.

“The learning was customised in collaboration with the school – whilst a detailed brief was provided, the challenge was individually led by the students who could solve their own problems through a process of discovery and risk taking. There was minimal instruction throughout the process, in favour of carefully crafted and timed questioning strategies.”

Disruptive technologies

3D printing was used to introduce the students to how they could create the pieces for the board game, like the dice and counters.

“One group focused on Ma-ori culture and language. The students 3D printed some gorgeous Korus, fish hooks and counters, and could also articulate how the board game could teach younger children about Ma-ori culture, language and heritage. They were incredibly engaged with the project.”

The project also started a conversation with students about what disruptive technologies are, and how they became so.

“We showed them pictures and clips of 3D printed cars, houses, time-lapses of things being printed, and talked about how it is a different manufacturing method. They were absolutely blown away, as many of them had never been exposed to this before,” added Catherine.

“It really made them think about the potential of new technologies – if something as simple as layering plastic could have this effect, then what else could we use it for?

Lightbulb moments

“You could see the penny drop and those lightbulb moments when they would comment on how these technologies are going to change how our houses and buildings are built. They even started linking it to the Christchurch rebuild, where they are seeing many new buildings but haven’t seen any of this technology being used. It was fantastic to see them engage in this type of thinking.”

Overall, the project successfully catered to all levels of learning.

“The 3D printing met the needs of the very gifted and very able, to those with learning problems and disabilities. All of them achieved a really high level of engagement and success with this project which was fantastic to see.”   

Catherine Johnson is Education Director at The Mind Lab by Unitec and was speaking to INTERFACE.

themindlabbyUnitecThe Mind Lab by Unitec has specialist labs in Auckland, Wellington, Gisborne and Christchurch. These offer integrated workshops
for school children in term and during holidays, across a broad spectrum of creative and scientific technologies. More at 

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