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3D Printed Artifacts and PBL Bring STEM and Social Studies to Life

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Friday, December 4, 2:00–2:45 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 1 of 2
Other presentations:
Partnering Education and Engineering Students With 5th Graders to Enhance Computational Thinking

Al Pajak  
Moving beyond textbooks takes education out of silos by integrating technology, STEM and history. 3D-printed historical artifacts enable students to construct historical narratives through research, interaction and exploration. By building museum displays with touchable artifacts to educate the public, students reveal living connections to the past.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Principals/head teachers
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Many of the models included in this study are available from the Virtual Curation Laboratory of Virginia Commonwealth University. Files can be accessed through this link:
Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: Social studies, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
For Students:
Creative Communicator
  • Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
Additional detail: Graduate student
Related exhibitors:
, MakerBot 3D Printers
, Raise3D
, XYZPrinting
, Adobe

Proposal summary


The perspective of this project relies on the connections developed between the student and historical persons and events resulting from historical inquiry and project based learning. An inquiry into history begins with a problem, question, or curiosity (Barton & Levstik, 2004). Inquiry requires asking questions, gathering and evaluating relevant evidence, and building conclusions based on the evidence (Barton & Levstik, 2004). Sharrock (2013, p. 11) describes the skills of inquiry as observing, questioning, exploring, researching and connecting. Students construct layers of gathered information based on the questions they ask as they seek to find solutions to problems (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Sharrock, 2013). Implicit within inquiry is the drive to support student learning without providing too much information and to engage students in critical thinking without exposure to high levels of frustration (Sharrock, 2013).
Scholz et al. (2006) stress the transdisciplinary nature of learning and problem solving and inquiry. They highlight the interaction between many disciplines in efforts to solve problems in sustainability through case study exploration. Historical identity, the historical characteristic of a place or object, also functions transdisciplinarily through connections to science, social justice, and technology.
Historical perspectives taught tend to be derived from a single source educational experience, such as a textbook, leading to a single point of view (Barton & Levstik, 2004). Traditionally, history and social studies education has been siloed and isolated from other subjects. Similarly, as a result of standardized education, teaching history has been oversimplified through direct instruction stepping around the impact of inquiry (Barton & Levstik, 2004). By contrast, historical inquiry allows the student to construct their learning experience by actively layering new mental constructs as they encounter history through connections with experiences of places and interactions with artifacts and primary source documents. With historical inquiry, the learner forms their own understanding of history. Inquiry-based experiences expand the opportunity for learners to construct their own interpretations leading to the discovery of multiple perspectives within history (Barton & Levstik, 2004).


In order to complete a close examination of the changes in the phenomena of empathy, this mixed methods study relies on Q Methodology. Q Methodology quantitatively measures the participant selection of predetermined qualitative statements (Watts and Stenner, 2012).“Q Methodology is the measure of subjectivity that represents an individual’s feelings, opinions, perspectives or preferences” (Newman & Ramlo, 2010. p. 508). It allows for the measurement of subjectivity by allowing participants to sort statements related to a topic into a grid (Newman & Ramlo, 2010; Watts & Stenner, 2012). Newman and Ramlo (2010) and Watts and Stenner (2012) detail the use of Q methodology in respect to an analysis of personal epistemologies, defined as the self-perception of their own knowledge. This research methodology was selected for two main reasons. The reliance on self referenced subjective statements Q methodology facilitates the examination of empathy in a population. Secondly, because of the reliance on a standard set of statements, Q method favors replication of this study across a multitude of populations. Other methodologies were considered and rejected because they either lacked repeatability or because the possibility of research bias was too high.


Based on reports from previous studies, reliance on historical empathy as a tool for inquiry produces greater connections to historical persons and events than traditional history education (De Leur, Van Boxtel & Wilschut, 2017; Barton & Levstik, 2004; Brooks, 2009; Yilmaz, 2007). The expectation is that students, through interactions with 3D printed historical objects, when tied to historical persons, context, and places, will develop greater connections and empathy toward the people of the past.


This study provides significant and unique perspectives on student interaction with history. First of all, the study is among the first to utilize Q Methodology, the qualitative analysis of quantitative statements, in the context of inquiry based history education with an elementary population. Secondly, the use of 3D printed and digital artifacts permits replication of this study in a wide variety of different educational settings. Finally, the curricula designed for this study demonstrates the feasibility of developing holistic, inquiry driven, projected based historical learning experiences in the elementary setting.


Al-Baghdadi, M. S. (2017). 3D printing and 3D scanning of our ancient history: Preservation and protection of our cultural heritage and identity. International Journal Of Energy & Environment, 8(5), 441-456. DOI
Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Routledge.
Brooks, S. (2009). Historical Empathy in the Social Studies Classroom: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Social Studies Research, 33(2), 213–234. Retrieved from
Brooks, S. (2010). An Examination of the Fostering and Display of Historical Empathy in One Secondary Social Studies Classroom (Ph.D.). University of Virginia, United States -- Virginia. Retrieved from
Means, B. (2015). Promoting a More Interactive Public Archaeology: Archaeological Visualization and Reflexivity through Virtual Artifact Curation. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 3(3), 235-248. doi:10.7183/2326-3768.3.3.235
Means, B.K.(2017, Dec. 8). Why print the past? [Video File]. Retrieved from
Orthel, B. D. (2016). Preservation and Negotiation of History and Identity in Lexington, Kentucky. Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum 23(2), 23-52. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from Project MUSE database.
Peterson, E. (2003). Teaching how to read the world and change it: Critical pedagogy in the intermediate grades. The critical pedagogy reader, 365 - 383.
Scholz, R. W., Lang, D. J., Wiek, A., Walter, A. I., & Stauffacher, M. (2006). Transdisciplinary case studies as a means of sustainability learning: Historical framework and theory. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 7(3), 226-251.
Sharrock, D. (2013). Down the Rabbit Hole: An Exploration of Student Grit, Motivation, and Scientific Inquiry. CreateSpace Independent Pub. Platform.
Tessa De Leur, Carla Van Boxtel & Arie Wilschut (2017) ‘I Saw Angry People and Broken Statues’: Historical Empathy in Secondary History Education, British Journal of Educational Studies, 65:3, 331-352, DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2017.1291902
Watts, S., & Stenner, P. (2012). Doing q methodological research: Theory, method and interpretation London, : SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781446251911
Yilmaz, K. (2007). Historical empathy and its implications for classroom practices in schools. The History Teacher, 40(3), 331-337.

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Al Pajak, Prescott College

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