March 15, 2012

Playdough for our Young Architects

An aerial view of Friends' School BSP (before solar panels),
as seen by our 4th and 5th graders using Google SketchUp
Our fourth grade class has had quite a week.  Fresh off being featured in the Daily Camera and spending their evenings learning the restaurant business, they have also been hard at work designing virtual three-dimensional computer models.  Along with the fifth grade class, our older students began to learn how to use Google SketchUp, a free software program which was developed right here in Boulder.

Google SketchUp is known by some as playdough for architects. It is a 3D modeling program  designed for architectural, civil, and mechanical engineers as well as filmmakers, game developers, and related professions. The program allows placement of models within Google Earth and that’s what our students were working on.

Oliver Davis, who is the dad of Olivia (5th grade) and Calder (PK), is the CEO of concept3D, a firm which specializes in 3D mapping. He brought along Zack Mertz, his vice-president of design, to Friends’ School to teach our students how to take a two-dimensional image of Friends' School straight from Google Earth and turn it into a 3D image. The kids designed a three-dimensional Friends’, complete with the school's distinct features, adding trees and even playing with how to add on new space.  One of the students figured out a way to design space for the school that looked like the Kremlin!

When asked why he thinks it's important for elementary kids to be familiar with more advanced software like 3D modeling, Davis responded, “Connecting the physical and virtual/digital worlds with 3D and other advanced media, such as Augmented Reality and spherical photos, will be a standard experience - beyond gaming. Whether interested in art, animation, computer science or just as a consumer, elementary students today will connect to everything virtually.”

Davis and Mertz have collaborated on creating photorealistic, highly detailed Google Earth/SketchUp models of Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and other well-known properties.  It was amazing to see how easily our students picked up the basic elements of the program.  Because it is free software, they can download it at home and build 3D models of their own house and neighborhood, or our school, right into Google Earth.

The fourth and fifth graders loved this experience.  Among many comments heard were:

I would never know how to do this on my own.  Now I can go home and do all this fun stuff.

5th graders learning how to use 3D mapping software
in the school's computer lab
I like how we can download images from 3D warehouse. 

Making pictures into 3D is so freeing.

Zack taught me how to make a house, then create a way to go inside!

I can't believe Zack came all the way from Minnesota to teach us this.

Really, really awesome!

Fifth grade teacher Liz Richards, who contributed significantly to this piece (thanks Liz!), remarked,

I think the best thing about the experience is the new enthusiasm it generated for working with practical software that is also fun.  Work can be fun!”

Who knew?

At Friends’ School, we had a sneaking suspicion.  And we’re very grateful to Oliver and Zack for their time and expertise and for advancing the knowledge of our kids.

1 comment:

shelpaw said...

Sounds like a sweet experience! And thanks, Liz for the demonstration and reminder that novelty in the context of familiarity is extraordinarily motivating...the topic of my presentation this afternoon to our teacher candidates!