The concept was called a replicator in Star Trek, but school children around the world know them as 3D printers. And some kids are lucky enough to be able to learn how to use them in the classroom.
3D printers are capable of printing almost anything the mind can imagine. Because of their versatility, they can be used to fabricate houses, cars, cookies, and even parts for the space station while in orbit. They are the future of business because of the savings of quick iterative design, the ability to create unique customized products, and the fact that they eliminate the need for expensive tooling dies and molds. A file can be sent around the world electronically, and can be printed on the other side- without the need for expensive shipping charges.
That's why educational programs around the world are scrambling to integrate them into the classroom. The costs can often be prohibitive, but the results are increased student engagement and interest in learning STEM skills. Abstract concepts can be rendered in tactile form for greater understanding. Students often persist with mastering subjects that they would have previously considered dry or boring in order to produce objects that began as sketches and ideas in their minds.
The United States 3D printing industry is the largest in the world. However, other countries aim to catch up and are proposing broad government initiatives to spark change. For instance, South Korea plans to put 3D printers half of its schools by 2017. American companies, like Makerbot, have equally ambitious goals and want to put 3D printers in every school in the country. The buzz is catching on, and even the White House recently held an inaugural White House Maker Faire to generate excitement around the DIY movement.
With prices continuing to drop for 3D printers, it's only a matter of time before the classrooms of the future become a reality.