Our world has existed in three dimensions for as long as time has existed, but it's only in recent times that we have become really enamoured with the idea of representing the world in 3 dimensions. This is going to become increasingly important for students in our schools. There has been lots of talk, for instance, about the making of 3D movie,s which are becoming quite commonplace, but there's more to thinking in 3D than simply 3D movies.
Environments such as Minecraft are being used increasingly in education to provide opportunities for 3D representation of the world in a similar way to how children used to use Lego blocks. There are two significant benefits:
In the world of 3D they cannot only build and represent walls, they can carry out walk-throughs to see what that representation will really be like.
Another area where 3D thinking is beginning to impact on education is through the development of 3D printers. We have had software such as Google Sketchup, freely available, that allows children to design and create and make things in 3D. Now with the affordability of 3D printers we can see those things represented in simple ways using ordinary polymers instead of ink and paper.
And 3D printing is being explored to do much more than just the things that children might create in schools. There are now the first examples of 3D manufacturing plants that will ultimately result in 3D items being able to be printed at home. For example if you broke the handle off your refrigerator you could simply go online, order a new one and it would print in 3D ready for you to screw on. Another area is the food industry where we see experimentation with the 3D printing of food, which raises all sorts of interesting and potentially exciting issues around the future of nutrition, and gaining access to the things we need to keep our bodies alive.
The medical field is yet another area where 3 dimensional printing is having huge impact. We are seeing now 3D printing being used to formulate transplanted bone structures for example, and we are seeing the early adoption of 3D printing that might be used in the formation of biological components such as kidneys or livers, which could then be transplanted into human beings. Naturally there are ethical and social concerns that we need to take into account, and it is part of our responsibility as educators to be thinking about and raising these issues.
In summary the two key areas I think we should be considering when considering thinking in 3D. The first is thinking about opportunities for students to experience the use of tools that will allow them to think in 3D, including the ethics and the social responsibility concerns. Secondly we need to be thinking about how we can appropriate 3D imagery into our teaching and learning now, and help to prepare students in this area as they prepare to go out to live and work in an increasingly digital world.
CORE staff are using Bundlr to collate links to articles and information relating to thinking in 3D in a Bundlr collection. There is the option for you to choose to follow the growing collection over the next few months.