Roanoke County Schools has given students access to the technology of the future; 3D printers.

A 3D printer is a machine that melts plastic or other materials and forms it into tangible things, some of which can't physically be created by a machine.

It sounds like science fiction, but students and teachers say the fact is clear; it's a useful tool on many levels.

Put a design in a computer and real stuff comes out: sounds easy, right?

When senior Joey Loving tried to explain it to other classmates the first time, they didn't quite get it.

“They were like; well don't you mean this is a 3d drawing on a piece of paper, and we're like no, no, you can actually pick it up and hold it in your hands,” Loving said.

Technology Education teacher Michael Johnson says the world of 3D printing is still evolving.

“The students get the opportunity to design it and get out of the theoretical stance and look at objects as they would be in real life,” Johnson said.

There aren't a ton of 3D printing jobs available now, but that could change.

It's not something everyone will use, but Johnson says it's worth having.

“It's our job to allow the students to have access to the latest technologies; this is the next and latest technology,” he said.

With these printers, students use trial and error to navigate a murky technological world by getting creative and using what they know to figure it out.

“For me personally, especially in drawing this stuff, as soon as you fix one problem, you get three more,” Loving said.

“We teach the children to solve problems; innovation, problem solving, that's our main focus,” Johnson said.

Teachers say that's why having this in the schools goes way deeper than building small objects.

“We just get them started, and kind of get out of their way,” Johnson said.

“You learn patience and all kinds of problem-solving skills because things aren't always going to be where they need to be, you just need to learn how to fix them,” Loving said.

Let's talk cost; each of these printers costs $1,600.

The county has one in every middle and high school, which means its total investment in these printers is in the range of $15,000 to $20,000.