Advancing Children’s Engineering Through Desktop Manufacturing

  • Glen Bull
  • Jennifer Chiu
  • Robert Berry
  • Hod Lipson
  • Charles Xie


Children’s engineering involves design of a solution under specified constraints in response to a particular need or goal. Desktop manufacturing systems enable students to engineer complex solutions with tangible products, expanding the range of possible approaches to engineering education. Desktop manufacturing technologies encompass digital fabrication systems such as 3D printers and computer-controlled die cutting systems and related technologies such as 3D scanners. These systems offer an entry point for advancing children’s engineering as well as connecting to other STEM subjects.

Because desktop manufacturing systems have only recently become affordable in schools and are continuing to evolve rapidly, the conditions under which they may be best used in classrooms are not yet well defined. However, there are several promising directions that may guide future research in this area. The design process involved in desktop manufacturing affords an opportunity for connections among multiple representations. The virtual design on the computer screen and the corresponding physical object that is produced are two representations of the same underlying construct. Negotiating these representations offers connections to mathematics taught in schools such as ratios, proportion, and scaling. Computer-assisted design programs developed as learning tools can capture information about student design choices and underlying thought processes. Construction of physical prototypes through desktop manufacturing involves extensive involvement of motor skills that may have linkages with student achievement. Digital objects and designs developed at one school can be disseminated via the Internet and reproduced at other sites, allowing designs to be shared and adapted for specific educational goals.


Children’s engineering Digital fabrication Desktop manufacturing STEM 



This material is based upon the work supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors appreciate helpful comments from the University of Virginia Children’s Engineering research group and thank the teachers and students involved in the projects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glen Bull
    • 1
  • Jennifer Chiu
    • 1
  • Robert Berry
    • 1
  • Hod Lipson
    • 2
  • Charles Xie
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Virginia, Curry School of EducationCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.The Concord ConsortiumConcordUSA

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