3-D printers help students link lessons to real-world applications.

In the corner of Jason Steele’s classroom at Oblock Junior High School in Plum, Pa., two 3-D printers whirred softly as they slowly created two objects out of blue plastic thread.

Mr. Steele is using the four printers in his eighth-grade technology education classes to allow students to develop a three-dimensional object on a computer and turn it into a physical product.

The 3-D printers could completely change the way objects are manufactured — instead of finding a supplier, ordering an item, paying for shipping and waiting for delivery, manufacturers will be able to make their own objects in a matter of minutes or hours.

Mr. Steele wants his students to be ready.

And it’s important for them to learn a “digital language,” he said.

In Phil Beatty’s seventh-grade technology education class, students learn how to use Google’s SketchUp software. When they get to eighth grade, they use the software to design an object that is created using the 3-D printers.

Mr. Steele said he instructs students to build something that is related to work that they are doing in another class. Students studying biology, for example, could design models of cells and then use the printers to create them.

(Next page: How students are using the printers)