lesson plan - 3D Printing and plastics

Understanding how technology and chemistry combine to make 3D digital models into real objects


Plastics are materials that are used in almost everything. From the clothes you wear, your phone, computer, household appliances, you are completely surrounded by them. However, plastics are not just one material, they are a very diverse range of materials. 3D printing uses plastics to create objects that are designed or scanned using computers to make a physical model.

This lesson will teach students about plastics (with a focus on PLA) and how they are used in FDM 3D printing to make objects. The lesson will then have them 3D print a PLA molecule which they can join to others to form a long chain demonstrating what PLA is at the molecular scale. Lessons can be done over one day or taught by each part over successive days.



The objective of this lesson plan is for students to learn the following subjects through reading and discussion of the subject matter and then practical application with interaction with the required equipment. Students will:

  • Learn about 3D Printing – Reading, discussion and then a practical examination of a 3D Printer.
  • Learn about Plastics & PLA (Chemistry) – Reading and investigation into plastics, their chemical structure, how they are formed and examining filament material. . A 3D printed molecular model will be used to engage the students in understanding of the PLA molecule chain and plastics.
  • Learn about 3D Printing with PLA – Reading and then practical operation of the 3D printer.
  • Learn to 3D print parts using a 3D Printer and observe its operation – Practical 3D printing to produce the PLA molecular model parts that will be assembled by the students.



This lesson plan contains science based subject matter according to the following standards (suitable for grades 11-12):

  • Common Core Standards - CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.1-10
  • California Common Core State Standards - HS-PS1 Matter and Its Interactions
    • HS-PS1-2 - Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
    • HS-PS1-3 - Plan and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to compare the structure of substances at the bulk scale to infer the strength of electrical forces between particles.
    • HS-PS1-5 - Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs.


tools and materials required

  • FDM 3D Printer which is compatible with Cura Software
  • PLA Filament for Printing
  • Computer
  • PLA Molecule 3D Model files (.stl)
  • Cura 3 software – Free download from Ultimaker
  • Hot Melt Glue Gun (for assembling atoms to form molecules)


lesson overview

Part 1 – 3D Printing                                        Introduction into FDM 3D printing and building objects

Part 2 – Plastics & PLA                                   Introduction into plastics & Chemical Structure of PLA

Part 3 – 3D Printing & Plastics                      How 3D printers use Plastics to make objects

Part 4 – Practical 3D printing                        Set up model for 3D printing in Cura software and 3D Print

Part 5 – Review the 3D Printed Model          Using the 3D printed parts assemble the PLA Molecule and review with the Students.

Molecule PLA - red.png