The beginnings of 3D printing technology date back to the 1980s, and today these technologies are rapidly evolving and slowly becoming available in schools as well. When implemented effectively, they can significantly improve school lessons. The universality of 3D technologies enables different fields of application – from manufacturing artefacts that aid learning to teaching students about 3D printing and enabling them to use this technology. In general 3D printing technologies are a maker-centered tool so engaging pupils in 3D printing technology activities offers the benefits of innovative learning methods such as active learning.
Inductive teaching and learning methods are the opposite of traditional teaching, as they are learner-centered, which means they impose more responsibility on pupils for their own learning and require constant activity and the use of higher cognitive processes. One of the methods is inquiry-based learning, which imitates the approach of authentic scientific research. In addition, inquiry learning provokes cognitive conflicts in students, and by resolving these, students develop critical thinking and other skills.
In the theoretical part, first the 3D printing technology is presented. FDM and FFF technology, which is the most widely used, is described in detail and was also used in our experiment. Inductive teaching and learning methods are introduced, focused on inquiry-based learning method. Critical thinking and its importance for STEM classes are also presented.
The aim of our research is to determine how the use of a 3D printer affects the development of critical thinking in 8th grade elementary school students. We were also interested in whether there are any correlations between students’ value of critical thinking and their progress in critical thinking.
The research is based on a descriptive and causal quasi-experimental method and quantitative approach. Implementation of the school activity day lasted for 5 school hours, the main topic was gears. The lesson was planned according to the inductive method of inquiry-based learning model 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate). The study included students from two classes of the 8th grade of primary school in the 2018/2019 school year. The sample represents 55 students, 25 of whom participated in the school activity day, in which we conducted 3D printing activities supported by inquiry-based learning (experimental group). The remaining 30 students consisted of a control group, where the lesson took place in the classical way. In both groups, a pre-test of critical thinking was conducted before addressing the topic of gearboxes, and a posttest was performed after the implementation of the school activity day. Through the test of critical thinking we obtained information about the students’ critical thinking level. A few weeks after the implementation of the school activity day, the students of both groups completed a questionnaire of critical thinking, which showed us the students' attitude towards critical thinking.
From the obtained results, it can be concluded that all the students generally progressed, as on average they achieved better results on the posttest (¯x = 30,91 %) than on the pretest (¯x = 26,55 %). On average, students in the experimental group (¯(x )= 8,53 %) progressed more than students in the control group (¯x = 3,69 %), expressed with the class average normalized gain. A comparison of the genders reveals that, on average, male students (¯x = 6,44 %) progressed more than female students (¯x = 5,56 %), also using the class average normalized gain. The results of the questionnaire of the critical thinking show that, on average, the students in the experimental group have a better attitude towards critical thinking and they value it more than the students in the control group, while students in the control group have better perceived misconceptions in relation to critical thinking. The results showed that, on average, students who valued critical thinking more also made more progress in critical thinking. Conversely, confidence in critical thinking or in one’s ability of critical thinking is not enough to advance oneself in critical thinking itself.
It is important to be aware of the limitations of our research, where the sample is quite small and the intervention is very short. The obtained results did not show statistically significant influences of the presence of 3D technologies in the development of critical thinking. However, we notice a trend of results that show in favor of 3D printing and the 5E model of inquiry learning. In order to determine the impact, the research should be expanded and the time of the intervention increased.
The master's thesis is useful for teachers of design and technology who are familiar with 3D printing technology or would like to involve a 3D printer in the class. It is also intended for teachers who want to introduce inductive learning methods into teaching, especially inquiry learning, and thus encourage students to develop critical thinking, teamwork, communication skills and other skills.