Action Research Plan and Reflection: School Library Engagement with 3D Printing

This session of EDLD 5315 Assessing Digital Learning & Instruction has provided authentic, timely and relevant learning to help me succeed in the role as a District Instructional Technologist. I now have the skills that I need to drive the elementary library 3D printing initiative to success. With the action research plan outlined below, I hope to demonstrate that equipping libraries with makerspace technology, such as 3D printers, increases engagement in our library learning hubs.

According to Craig Mertler, action research involves the following 4 stages:

Planning – My research plan is outlined in the slides, timeline & narrative and literature review below. Another element of planning is reviewing related literature. I found this process extremely valuable, for multiple reasons. First, it validated that the initiative I have planned has relevance in supporting students with developing 21st century skills. Second, it helped me discover additional resources, guides, and thought leaders in the area of makerspaces and 3D printing. Third, it helped me decide that for the “tallymark” portion of my action research, I will absolutely develop an electronic form.

Acting – The collecting and analyzing of data will take places as detailed in the timeline.

Developing – Based on the results of the data, the development of a plan to make adjustments to the 3D printing initiative may be necessary. There may be varying levels of action plans (individual, team, school or district-wide). Questions to ask, might be: Did staff engage in enough preparation to implement the 3D printers? Do additional stakeholders need training? Are teacher having difficulty naturally integrating 3D printing with lessons and projects? What can the District Instructional Technologist do to provide support?

Sharing Results & Reflecting – The sharing and reflection process is critical because it can provide documentation for those that may want to try similar projects or strategies. Also, it can shed light on how to take a similar or different approach to future school or district-wide initiatives.

Throughout this course, we have been very focused on the planning stage of action research. As the 3D printer initiative progresses, I will be able to work through the acting, developing and reflecting stages.


This action research project that I design will be centered around 3D printers in elementary school libraries. Makerspaces and 3D printing is a slight shift from my original innovation plan, although the topics are still very much related. I started this program with a summer STREAM camp in our libraries as the focus of my plan. As we got closer to the the launch of our camp, it became clear to me that I wanted to broaden my topic to have an even greater positive effect in my school district libraries. I shifted the focus of my innovation plan to transforming libraries to learning hubs. The elements of transforming traditional libraries to learning hubs are: professional learning for librarians, providing maker space supplies and resources, organizing creative, collaborative engaging events in the libraries, as well as including flexible seating for an inviting atmosphere. STREAM camp was directly related to library transformation because we transformed a previously stale, underused summer library program to a fun, engaging camp that registered over 500 participants in a few hours and has received positive reviews.

Out of our 31 elementary schools, only five have 3D printers in the library. They were provided either because driven, forward thinking librarians eager to keep their libraries innovative used book fair or grant funds to purchase them, or as part of new schools. Our district is opening three new elementary schools this year, and as 3D printers are slowly becoming the standard, they are provided by the school district.

This year, there are some grant funds specifically set aside for products related to STEM learning, and bringing all of our libraries to the standard of having a 3D printer fits the bill! Although I have received approval for the project, and the 3D printers have been ordered, I have been met with some hesitancy. Colleagues have asked, “How will teachers have time to teach kids to use them?” and “How does that help us meet any of the learning standards?” and “Aren’t 3D printers just a novelty? How will they help kids learn?”

These questions are valid, and I hope to be able to provide strong evidence of success with this action research. Also, I am acutely aware that it is not a good idea to purchase technology just for the sake of having the technology. This 3D printer initiative must be led with purpose, and clear goals.


The purpose of this action research study is to measure the impact on student engagement in the library as 3D printing is made available. Many of our libraries utilize maker spaces as well as other very engaging activities. My vision is that the novelty of the availability of a device that helps students envision an idea, create it digitally and then manufacture it into a tangible object will draw more students to the library. Some of our elementary school libraries have a somewhat structured schedule, where students visit with their entire class once a week, or every other week. In these cases, the teacher and librarian may collaborate to plan lessons. In other cases, the library may be a part of the specials rotation, meaning that students may come to the library multiple times a week, while the teacher has conference time. Both of these situations allow for the planning and implementation of structured lessons that may feature projects that include 3D printing. What is does not allow is time for students to electively visit the library. Part of my goal is to determine if 3D printing increases interest in visiting the library voluntarily, before or after school, during any free time, or for special library events.

Fundamental Research Question

To what extent does equipping elementary libraries with 3D printers impact student engagement in the library?

Research Design

 I intend to conduct thorough and well-planned, mixed-method action research that includes both quantitative and qualitative data. While quantitative data can tell reveal trends and patterns, they may not tell the entire story. Therefore it is important to include survey questions that allow students, teachers, and librarians to clearly express if they have been positively impacted by having opportunities to use the 3D printers, or not. Also, I plan to make all ethical considerations before conducting the study, to include informing participants, and gaining permission from the parents of students before they are interviewed or surveyed. In Action Research, Mertler states, “If you intend to share your action research with a larger audience than the other educators in your school, you must get permission to use samples of student work, quotes from transcripts of audio or video recordings, or observation notes that you plan to share with others.” (Mertler, 2020).

Measurement Instruments & Techniques

For quantitative data, I will ask the librarians at four libraries to keep tally marks for four pieces of data on a document or electronic form that I will prepare. One tally mark for each time a 5th grade class visits during a regularly scheduled class time, one tally mark for each time a 5th grade class visits for an additional scheduled time, one tally mark for each time an individual 5th grader electively visits, one tally mark for the number of 3D printed objects created by 5th graders.  Also, I will prepare a survey for 5th grade students at four libraries. The survey will be administered in September and April. The survey will contain both quantitative and qualitative questions. An example of a quantitative question would be, “Have you ever used a 3D printer?” or “Have you ever visited the library on your own because you wanted to, not as part of a class?” An example of a qualitative question on the survey would be, “Is there something you would like to be able to make or do in your school library that you have not been able to?” For additional qualitative data, I will conduct video interviews with 5th graders that include questions such as, “What do you enjoy about the library?” And “What have you learned in the library?”

Literature Review

The literature review that I conducted focus on research associated with the effects of integrating STEM and maker space and activities in school libraries. I will integrate research I have previously reviewed while developing my innovation plan for STREAM Camp with additional research regarding the use of 3D printers in schools, particularly elementary school libraries.

Analyze, Reflect and Plan

The final steps of the action research project include analyzing the data and executing an action plan based on those results. The plan may include designing more professional learning for teachers or creating additional student-focused events such as 3D printing challenges or contests.

Timeline of 3D Printer Initiative & Action Research Plan

  • Summer 2021

    Purchase and install 3D printers in 26 elementary libraries

    Printers have been ordered, but not yet received.

  • Fall 2021

    • Librarians that have Dremel 3D printers participate in the self-paced online training course
    • District Instructional Technologist conducts voluntary after-school professional learning sessions for elementary teachers
    • Librarians keep tally marks of visits for quantitative data
    • District Instructional Technologist conducts video interviews & surveys of 5th graders at 4 elementary campuses (with parental permission)
  • Winter 2021/2022

    • Revisit goals & trainings with librarians
    • Continue after school training sessions for teachers
    • Introduce 3D printing contest for all elementary students
  • Spring 2022

    • Librarians share total of tally marks of visits for quantitative data
    • District Instructional Technologist conducts video interviews & surveys of 5th graders at 4 elementary campuses (with parental permission)
  • Summer 2022

    • Review and share data with librarians and district leadership
    • Create an action plan based on research findings. The action plan may include additional training for teachers and librarians if needed.
    • Reflect on the successes and areas of needed improvement of the entire 3D printer initiative and research.
    • Celebrate the successes and stay cognizant of needed improvement for future projects.

Literature Review



ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. (2018). What are you thinking about? Craig Mertler, Ph.D. YouTube. 

Mertler, C. A. (2013). Action Research (6th ed.). SAGE Publications.

TEDx Talks. (2016). Why teachers should bring 3D printers into the classroom | Stephen Elford | TEDxRosalindParkED. YouTube. 

2 Comments on “Action Research Plan and Reflection: School Library Engagement with 3D Printing

  1. Pingback: Library Learning Hubs – Update Innovation Plan | Holly D. Landez ePortfolio

  2. Pingback: Digital Learning and Leading Journey Synthesis | Holly D. Landez ePortfolio

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